People talk and write about how the development of writing as a way of communicating ideas caused a certain amount of skepticism and stress back in the Ancient world, particularly in Ancient Greece. It is kind of refreshing when you think about how much communicating with the written word--or written symbol--had been going on in the relative "neighborhood" of Greece before 370 B.C.E., and how little people like Socrates were able to know about it mainly because they didn't communicate in writing. Writing in Asia is even older.
Writing has going through various phases, has used different kinds of materials and machines, but people still find it worthwhile to communicate using written language.
This information helps me to feel a little bit better about where "we" are in the grand scheme of all things musical. Notation for music is far younger, as far as we know, than the notation systems used for representing words. There are a great many musicians who have no need for it, and even people who read music are sometimes crushed by its limitations. We have benefited from musicians who could use musical notation to full advantage and could give us great art, and recently, through the work of the volunteers participating in the IMSLP/Petrucci Library, we have been able to have a glimpse of just how many excellent composers wrote and published music during the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. For a long time notation was the only way of recording musical ideas, but musical ideas could only be recorded by people who could use the system to their advantage. Musical ideas could only be recorded by people who had the inner tools and the discipline to take down their own "dictation."
After 1860, the year when people started making the first primitive recording devices, it became possible to record and reproduce musical ideas without having to translate them into notation. A mere 150 years later it is possible to record and transmit musical ideas across the world instantly without real-time sound production made by a physical friction-producing object (in the case of electronically-generated music).
In between these two technologies (1860-2011) we have, through around five generations of the technical approaches of playing and singing handed down from teacher to student, a world where many pieces of music that were once thought virtually unplayable can now be played by children. Thanks to the technological advances that have helped students learn (like electronic metronomes, phonograph records, CDs, tape recorders, video cameras, computers, PDF score libraries, and the communities fostered by musical bloggery), we probably have more excellent instrumental and vocal musicians per square mile than anyone could have dreamed possible in 1860. Musicians still make up a small percentage of the world's population, but there are enough of us (mostly concentrated in metropolitan areas) to supply live music everywhere it might be wanted.
We do, unfortunately, have to compete with music that comes from boxes, headphones, and screens, but I can imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when people might turn their backs on recorded music and seek out musical experiences that involve a live person or a group of living and breathing people playing music on instruments that generate their sounds as a result of friction rather than electricity. They might even pay for the privilege of listening. The closer virtual reality comes to the real thing, the more pronounced the differences become. And everyone reading this knows what those differences are.
Perhaps we're all participating in a large musical cycle, and due to the speeding up of progress that computers afford, we can kind of see part of the curve. Maybe we might even see a change soon. I'm not holding my breath, but I'm going to keep practicing, just in case an exciting change comes during my lifetime. I figure that at 52 I have about 40 good years left.