Streaming vs. Owning

Paul Cantor
2 min readJul 28, 2022

Recently, I was going through an old hard drive. On the drive I found an iTunes folder filled with music that I must have downloaded between the years 2009 and 2012.

When I began cueing up songs, memories came back to me. I thought about the time of life that I was in when the songs were downloaded. I remembered downloading them, listening to them, putting them on an iPod, and carrying that iPod around with me.

It was a brief moment of nostalgia, and it felt good.

Some time around 2011, I scaled back on downloading music and began streaming more. I still have some of the earliest playlists I made on Spotify. But when I see the playlists, I am not nostalgic. So long as I have had the account, the playlists have been there. I’ve never missed them, because they’ve never been gone.

When I see friends, they often ask me what I am listening to. It’s a wonder that I never know what to tell them. Such a basic question, and I struggle to answer. Certainly, with my background writing about music, making music, working in music, entertainment, blah blah blah, I am listening to all sorts of stuff. I have music on nearly constantly.

And yet I never remember anything I am actually listening to. I cue something up on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, or some other streaming company, I play it for a bit, sometimes at my desktop, often on my phone and very often on one of the Smart Home-connected devices that I use.

But when I am done, the music is gone, and I move on with my life.

There is no nostalgia associated with this experience. I cannot look back at anything that told me I listened to the music, for there is no remnant to tell me that it actually occurred. Is this a bad thing? Am I not engaging deeply enough with the music to remember it? What does it mean when something that people give their entire lives to — like music — becomes just a digital file in the cloud that nobody ever sees, and thus is unlikely to ever be remembered? Did the music ever exist at all? I mean, I heard it. But was it ever really there?



Paul Cantor

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.