A man came into my music shop to order a compact disc (remember those — precursor to your iPod?). He wanted a song by John Prine, but didn’t know on which album it appeared.
I clicked a couple of keys on my laptop, and found the answer, mentioning that it was also on Prine’s “Greatest Hits.”
“Oh no,” he replied defensively and in mock horror! “I never buy the ‘Greatest Hits’ albums. I want it on the one where he first recorded it. I want to hear it surrounded by the rhythms and lyrics of the other songs that made up the mood of Prine’s entire album, the way he wanted it to be heard.”
My customer went on to say, “People just aren’t interested in wholeness anymore; they always want the short cut.”
An interesting conversation ensued. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to offer him the information regarding his song in two minutes. It would have taken two or three days and several phone conversations with more than one distributor from whom I ordered my music.
No denying that this represents the short cut, the quick fix, another product of the phenomenon set in place by the god of progress.
In the mid 1960s, I remember my mother exclaiming, “What did we ever do without it?” when we got our first electric clothes dryer (and right in our very own basement, no less!). And I heard her remark many times after that, “But the clothes sure don’t smell like fresh air anymore.” We used to love to press the sheets to our face and breathe in the outside air.
Everything is a trade-off. After my customer had left my shop, satisfied that I would order the CD, he thanked me in advance. He would look forward to hearing it again, he said with a smile, and to talking with me again, too. I thought how actual conversations like that occur less and less frequently these days between merchants and customers.
The face-to-face exchanges with people is the aspect of running a small town business I will miss the most when the show’s over.
As the style of communication has changed, so have the many nuances of conversation. Consider the art of “texting” on a cell phone, which I myself have not mastered (not a big concern of mine). People’s questions are abbreviated when they rely on texting messages, and their answers, even more so.
Case in point: a guitar technician who works occasionally through my shop did some extensive adjustments on a used guitar that I had sold on consignment to a young, bright teenage customer.
Taking a sincere, personal interest in his work, the technician, always meticulous in his craft, returned the instrument with a hand-written note attached, explaining in detail to the young lady what he had done to the guitar, and how best to continue taking care of it.
I read the note as it sat in a corner of the store waiting to be reclaimed, sure the girl would be impressed by his work. When I saw the technician later in the week, I said what a nice note it was and asked if the girl had responded. “Oh yes, she did, in an e-mail,” he laughed.
Because he is young enough, and because I have five teen-age grandchildren, we both knew that the gist of her reply was: “Well, thank you. I appreciate your expertise, and it was nice doing business with you.”
But what she wrote in her e-mail was: “Sweet. Thanks.”
Gloucester resident Susan S. Emerson is a regular Times columnist.