I'm afraid I don't get it about MP3, the sound format that was supposed to be the Next Big Thing on the Internet.
I started out with the right "early adopter" attitude -- I downloaded free software that can play the format on my computer, and then used Internet search engines to find recordings that fit the standard.
The format, which is shortened from MPEG1, Audio Level 3 (established by the audio- and video-standard-setters at the Moving Picture Experts Group), is a highly compressed form of digital audio that lets lots of high-quality sound be stored on one file.
When it arrived on the Internet scene two years ago, its compression powers in particular were a huge breakthrough in sending music files because, at the time, even little start-up chimes took a lot of bits and bytes to transmit, relatively speaking.
So I had some fun for a short while, understanding that while the format was new, the selection of songs to listen to would be limited. Then I sat back and waited.
I'm still waiting. I visit places such as www.mp3.com and www.audiohighway.com, and I still find a limited selection.
Oh, it's not that there are no MP3 files to download -- au contraire, there are hundreds of thousands of them, by some counts. It's that there's not much that I recognize, and I don't want to invest my time downloading files that I end up hating.
I don't think it's because I've become a fuddy-duddy who isn't hip to today's music. But I have to confess I don't recognize a lot of the "genres" anymore.
There are selections galore in music categories such as avant rock and funkhouse, bands called Ed Fication and Quest 'N' Flux. I try a handful of files and generally don't care for them each time I visit.
The bottom line for me is that I don't want to be my own disc jockey; I want someone else to be, in effect, my music editor. But at this stage in MP3's development, that's what I have to be to partake of what its fans, promoters and many outside analysts call a revolution in the way music is recorded and distributed.
The last time I wandered around in search of names and tunes I liked, I ran into "The Real Digital Music Revolution," an essay by a man named Eric Scheirer. He seemed to be writing about people like me:
"The computer pundits complain about the MP3.com business model, saying, `Who wants to listen to bad unsigned bands?' "
Uh-oh, I'm in for it, I thought as I read. And he knows what he's talking about: Scheirer is an audio researcher for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, no schlock outfit. He wrote his piece for MP3.com as its new "technologist-at-large."
"People talk as though our time is too precious to listen to bad music. And it's true that the music you find on the Internet isn't always as slick, as well-produced, as what I can hear on the radio," he wrote.
"But it's even better, because the music on MP3.com and other sites is honest. Most of the bands here know they're not going to make money. They make music because they love it, and because they want to share their love with others. And when it comes down to love versus slick production, I'll take the love every time."
Well, maybe I've lost the wide-eyed optimism of my youth, Mr. Scheirer, but I'll take good music over both love and slick production.
I'm clearly in the minority -- or at least I'm on the usually deserted side of Big Business. Large record labels aren't keen on MP3, either, as it normally functions as a fee-free and copyright-free transmission system.
Ah, wait -- there is something good I can say about the MP3 model. I do enjoy the "digital book" recordings of such classics as "War of the Worlds," "Emma" and Sherlock Holmes stories.
Okay, I concede:
Maybe this is an age thing after all.
Victoria Shannon can be e-mailed at Vshannon@aol.com.
Editor's note: After today, look for consumer technology coverage in The Post's expanded Fast Forward section -- every Friday on the front of the Business section.