The Universe of Discourse

Mon, 16 Dec 2013

Things do get better
I flew back from Amsterdam on Friday, and the plane had an in-flight entertainment system that offered to show me movies or play me music. That itself is a reasonable thing to try, I think, because the flight is dull. But until this flight, I never felt that the promise had been fulfilled. Usually, in my experience, these things offer four or five awful movies that you can only imagine watching while strapped into a chair Clockwork Orange style, and one canned selection of music from each of nine genres. So the in-flight entertainment system is yet another perpetrator of oppression by mass media and yet another shovelful of the least-common denominator culture that mass media fosters.

I don't think that least-common-denominator culture distributed by mass media is the worst evil perpetrated by the 20th century, but I do seriously think it is on the list of the top ten.

But not this time. Digital information technology has improved to the point that the in-flight system was able to offer me several dozen movies, a few of which I actually wanted to see, and a large selection of music, much more than I could possibly listen to during the seven-hour flight. And one of those selections was the 9th Symphony of Philip Glass.

I spent a large part of the flight alternately listening to the symphony, which I had not heard before, and marveling that it was there at all. “Who on earth,” I wondered, “thought it would be a good idea to put that in there?” I can't imagine there are that many people who want to listen to Philip Glass on a long airplane flight. But it seems that the technology has advanced to the point that the programming people have extra space they need to fill, so much extra space that it doesn't matter if they throw in some Philip Glass just in case, because why not?

I imagine it will get better from here too. Perhaps the next flight will offer me not just one selection from Philip Glass, but every possible selection from John Adams. But I think the in-flight entertainment system has crossed a critical threshold, and I will mock it no longer.

(My thanks to whatever crazy person decided to include Philip Glass on KLM flight 6053 last Friday. It brought me a lot of pleasure and helped pass the slow hours across the north Atlantic.)

[ Addendum 20150501: Unable to find a copy online, I asked my wife to get my a CD of the 9th Symphony for my birthday, and it is as wonderful as I remembered. Here's another way things got better: I put the CD into my laptop, to rip some MP3s from it, and discovered that Orange Mountain Music had saved me the trouble; the CS was pre-equipped with audio files in MP3, FLAC, and Ogg Vorbis format. ]

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