The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

A Digital Symbiosis

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Best read with accompaniment, something ambient and light. May I suggest a fine This Will Destroy You or St Germain?

I've said this many times before: certain things are better together. The sum of the parts is greater than the individual pieces. Apple pie and vanilla ice cream for example. Or, a sunrise and a strong, hot cup of coffee. Popcorn and a good movie.

For me, music and working on a computer are on this list.

Get Off My Lawn

Compared to the majority of web workers, I'm a fairly old guy. I can remember carrying around jewel cases filled with my favourite CDs. Even further back, I remember listening to America's Top 40 on the radio with my best friend, taping the songs. On cassette tapes! We'd sit there for 2 hours, hitting record when a song started, pausing for all the commentary and commercials.

Later in life, I vividly remember when a friend bought his first CD burner. I rushed to his house, collection of CDs in hand, and proceeded to rip all the songs to his hard drive (ripping … it sounded cool). From there I could mix songs from various artists, create mix CDs to listen to at any time. I was back to my childhood, finally given the flexibility of cassette tapes and a red button, but this time on a compact disc.

To say that music has always been important to me would be an understatement.

One Without the Other

In the year 2000, I returned to college for a second stint. This time I was enrolled in Computer Information Systems. In no time at all, the aforementioned jewel cases stuffed with my favourite CDs were a staple on my list of vital equipment for time spent in the computer lab.

iTunes became available in 2001, I was a Windows user and WinAmp was my digital music player of choice. During my first summer as a co-op student getting paid to defrag hard drives and administer Lotus Notes, I purchased my first Dell PC, complete with a CD burner.

Playlists were my new mix tape.


Fast forward to 2012. I don't make many playlists anymore, preferring to listen to an album at a time. But the importance of music is still the same. I can't really work on a computer without it.

For the twelve years I've spent working in front of a screen, music has been intertwined. My music application is one of the first things I install when putting together a new machine (for those keeping score, it's Rdio these days, not iTunes).

A Symbiosis of Sorts

It's interesting how differently we humans do things. My wife cannot do any serious work or thinking with music playing. The lyrics catch her attention, distracting her from the task at hand. I'm just the opposite — the words blend with the notes, moving to the background of my consciousness.

A symbiotic relationship is defined as one that is mutually beneficial to both organisms. And while digital artifacts do not fall into this category, I cannot separate the music from the computer usage. Twelve years is a span of time that builds strong habits, and this one is completely second nature. I sit down to work, then start up the music (and sip the coffee, but that's an article for another day). One activity flows into the other.

The type of music comes into play depending on the type of work to be done. Sometimes, in my over-caffeinated state of being, some fast paced music will make me feel stressed, especially if I'm busy. That's when I bring out the Miles Davis or the Tchaikovsky. Other times, I crave the fast paced, dancing as I work at my standing desk.

The point of all this? That the music enhances my work, my entire work environment. It melds itself to my workflows and processes.

And the end result is better for it.

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