Music has substantial evolutionary survival value. There’s a theory, which I find totally convincing, that music is the evolutionary precursor to language, the bridge between the cries and gestures of other primates and our own more abstract communication. Read about it here:
Humans’ success as a species is due entirely to our social organization, and music is a crucial tool for group building and bonding, more than we give it credit for in the western world. We think of music as a form of entertainment, mostly divorced from its most basic purposes. But taking the macro-scale historical view, music isn’t recordings of specialists making pleasant background noise. It’s all the emotional-laden patterned vocalization, percussion and gestures we perform, consciously and not. For example, all parents use music to comfort babies. Sometimes it’s in the form of overt singing and dancing with them, but even routine speaking to very young children is mostly musical in content. There’s the singsong cadence, the repetition, and the warmly modulated tone. This “motherese” is universal among human cultures and is probably very ancient.
Music is also a crucial tool for social bonding among adults, for making a tribe feel like a tribe. There are ecstatic chants and dances for spiritual purposes, or for just relaxing and relieving stress. There are work songs to make tedious tasks more bearable. There are marches and fight songs to prepare for battle, and there are lullabyes to lull each other to sleep. We use music to modulate our own emotions and those of others. We use it for courtship. In preliterate societies, music was a crucial mnemonic device, and it’s still extremely useful for that purpose. And modern language continues to have substantial amounts of musical content. Some languages literally use pitch to convey grammatical meaning. Every language uses pitch, rhythm and timbre to give emotional and social coloring to the bare facts conveyed by the words.
We enjoy music for the same reason we enjoy eating, sex and running and jumping. To treat music as a frivolity is like treating exercise that way; it leads to unhealthy and unhappy humans.
Original post on Quora
What products can’t you live without?
Chances are, your answer to that question in 1973 would be very different from your answer today.
In response to coverage of strapped households, a reader points us to the Pew Research Center’s 2006 report on what kinds of goods Americans consider “necessities” versus “luxuries.” The results show that, as their incomes rose, Americans have gotten somewhat needier over time. For example, the percentage of Americans who call microwaves a “necessity” rather than a “luxury” has more than doubled in the past decade, from 32 percent in 1996 to 68 percent in 2006:
The study also broke down the responses by age group. As you might expect, younger people were much more likely to view home computers and cellphones as a “necessity” than their older counterparts. But complaints about young people’s watching too much TV notwithstanding, older Americans were much more likely to view television as a necessity than younger Americans were:
I imagine that the TV statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, though — compared to older Americans, younger Americans may be more likely to get their entertainment content over the Internet rather than through a TV set. (YouTube, for example, was acquired by Google the same month that these survey responses were collected.)
In any case, the change in consumer spending habits — or at the very least, how Americans view these spending habits — has prompted lively debates about how to calculate the “cost of living” over time. Some academics say that, judging by the household comforts Americans can afford, families today are better off than their parents or grandparents were; others argue that the rising cost of some core expenses, like health care, means things are tougher for American families.
The full Pew Research Center report is available here.