Friday, June 28, 2024

The Cost = Value Equation

The other day, as I was thumbing through my ancient record collection, I started thinking about the investment I had in my collection. The majority of my records I do not own, due to a couple of very unorganized moves in my twenties. But I do still have the very first record I ever purchased, which is the Batman TV Show soundtrack by The Marketts. (Here is the link to the theme of that show.) 

Now for context, I had to work to own that album which was also true for any non-essential purchase in my childhood. I saved my allowance which I received for working around the house (beyond my normal chores), then bargained for transportation downtown to the Sears store, (which was the closest store that sold records back then) got home and devoured the album art and info - discovering who played on the record, the album list of songs, the artwork (which was awesome!) and then I put the record on my portable player and listened to the songs. Later I relived this experience when I visited friends and discovered together the shared experience of listening to music. As opposed to our current economic flow required to listen to music, I was heavily invested in my time and money into that experience, which is probably why that album became a treasured possession. 

In my teenage years I worked to own albums by some of my favorite artists, Billy Joel, Genesis, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Three Dog Night, Chicago, and much more. Each one of those albums represented a cost, a financial cost, and a cost in time to acquire and then consume that product, and they became some of the most valued possessions that I owned. 

Later, in my early twenties, I decided after years of playing in bands that I wanted to record some of my original songs. This was a huge investment because there were no home, portable solutions to record your own music. The only consumer recording options were cassette tape recorders, which even if you could afford a multi-track recorder you were limited to only 4 channels of less than pristine audio. So I worked, and saved, and researched local studios, and finally picked a studio where we recorded two of my songs. (Which was all the studio time I could afford) For that investment I received a master recording on cassette tape, that I could then pay to duplicate and send out to record labels and radio stations. It cost me a pretty tidy sum to record my music on a more permanent platform, but it was a price that I willingly paid. 

Last year there were over 100,000 songs uploaded to Spotify, the music streaming service. (That's more than one song per second) You can also subscribe to Spotify, or your favorite streaming service and for less than the cost of an album, you can access almost all the recorded music available in the world. Think about that, for $10.99 you can access every Michael Jackson song, every album by Frank Sinatra, and everything in between. The paradox is that we have the world of music quite literally at our fingertips, yet we are frivolous about its value. It's easy, it's immediate, and it costs very little. 

Which leads to my conclusion that there is a direct correlation between what something costs and the value attributed to that purchase.

In today's culture, it is my belief that music is of little value. Now that doesn't mean that music is less important to our culture, and to our personal enjoyment of music. But I do believe that since it costs next to nothing to create and record music, followed by a minimal investment by the consumer, equals a reduction in the quality and the experience that music has on each of our lives. There is reduced ownership, and because of our overwhelming digital consumption of music, no product that you can touch and no artwork to admire. So why are we surprised when music ceases to trigger the same attention, awe, and respect that had occurred in years past. There is no personal ownership of music, in a tangible form that you can touch, share, and admire on your record player and bookshelf. Now we simply click an app and poof, there at our fingertips is almost all of the recorded music of our civilization. 

Another example, I was attending a church few years back and I started offering music lessons for free or at the most a very reduced rate. My thought was to introduce prospective students to the world of music, no matter what their ability was to pay for that lesson. Yet after one year I closed down my teaching service. The reason? Every student, without fail, attributed the low value of the lesson to the amount of work needed to achieve results, which resulted in almost all of my students failing to progress due to their lack of practice. I had taught piano lessons before and generally had success with my students and expanding their musical horizons but this was an eye-opening experience. The lesson learned, is whatever costs you little will result in you attaching very little value to that investment. 

In fact, I believe that is why socialism is growing in popularity, the allure of receiving much for a small investment is too attractive a proposition to resist. Margaret Thatcher framed the results in her famous quote, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.” However, and even greater issue is the ultimate devaluing of the goods, services, and experiences that you are handing out at little cost to the consumer. People become dependent, expectant even, and grow hostile when the status quo changes and/or they are asked or forced to pay more for said gains. This is one of the many perils that we as a country face at this moment of time.

But wrapping up this mini-rant, I was also exposed to an far more serious issue in my own life, a lack of gratitude for my eternal salvation. The value of that unprecedented gift versus the perceived investment required is so diametrically opposite that it is easy for me to devalue the gift and by proxy, the Giver. As I have grown in my faith, I realize that the cost of this gift is actually far greater than I could have imagined during my conversion experience. The cost is my entire life, which though of far less value than the eternal gift of redemption, is still a cost that sometimes I choose to ignore. The gift, the gift of eternal life, in harmony with my Creator is far greater than I could have imagined when I first accepted Jesus as my Savior. 

One of the problems that I face, is that I have owned my life for so long before I exchanged it for salvation, and then I still have the freedom to repossess my life to serve my own desires at any time. This ability to renege on the terms of our transaction is greatly dependent upon the reality of ignoring what this transaction really cost. For both parties.  

"For if, after they (we) have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they (we) are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them." (2 Peter 2:20-21)

"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26)

"He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit . . ." (Titus 3:5)

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:18)