Can Internet radio be a catalyst for a quarter-life crisis?
It probably shouldn’t be, but here we are.
I recently discovered Pandora Radio. I’m not sure how it has taken me this long; to be honest, I wasn’t 100 percent clear on how it worked.
Pandora’s appeal derives from its ability to compliment its users’ musical taste and even expand upon it. Sometimes shuffle isn’t enough to propel the most versatile of playlists from the vortex of an overplayed iTunes library. And, of course, there’s also the fact that it’s free free free.
I’ve been using Pandora as an escape from my music. My listening habits tend to mirror my coffee drinking habits: I listen to songs/bands/albums until I am positively sick. I couldn’t listen to the Beatles for a solid three years after getting the White Album for my birthday. I doubt I will ever be able to stomach “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” again. (Which, retrospectively, may be for the better.)
At first, I was excited by the results of my Pandora stations. I found its ability to find and compile artists according to a mere suggestion of my musical taste almost thrilling. And though technically counterproductive, I was even excited by the fact that it would play much of the music I already had on my iPod. In its own, twisted way, it was sort of validating.
That is, until I realized that Pandora seemed to know me a little too well. I’m not naive enough to think that my musical taste is completely one-of-a-kind. But I never thought it was so cookie-cutter friendly. Was I that predictable?
And just like that, the honeymoon was over.
I found myself trying to outwit Pandora. Any faux pas on its part was a triumph on mine. Oh, so you think that because I like Bright Eyes, I like Death Cab? Ho ho, Old Sport, you are mistaken!
I realize these mind games with the radio are a bit counterintuitive. I realize I am overreacting. But here we are.
What makes Pandora great is also what freaks me out: using a process of elimination —thumbs up, thumbs down—it can figure me out. And apparently, it isn’t that difficult. And Pandora isn’t alone in this mission. Facebook and other site ads are constantly changing according to what it can ascertain as your interests—you like this, you don’t like that. Siri on Apple’s iPhone 4S is at the ready make personalized suggestions.
While this technology is certainly useful, I think that there is something lost — the satisfaction of finding something that interests you on your own…rather than as a result of a device’s ability to compile data and make matches according to what it thinks is compatible with your tastes. I suppose the same argument could be applied to online dating. Though these technologies can be highly successful in making these matches, there is something eery and, admittedly, ego-deflating about having a computer file you into a category, no matter how personalized. In this digital age, it seems more difficult to be, or at least feel, different.