This picture sits on the window outside the last.fm research team’s room. I stole it after reading about its origin because it so clearly represents my favorite dystopia, and serves as a clarion call: this way to machine domination!
Usually when someone asks me what I do for a living, I get pretty excited. There is some hand waving. I might use phrases like “making machines understand music like people do!”, “predicts what you’ll like”, sometimes even “the future of”. It’s grandiose stuff! If there’s a napkin around, I might even throw in a diagram.
It doesn’t surprise me to get back a “Huh,” or maybe a “Well, that’s interesting,” What does still surprise me is the occasional recoil-in-horror: “A machine that plumbs the very depths of my being? Surely not!” Just recently at a holiday dinner, one especially huffy great uncle so-and-so said to me, “The idea that I’d follow musical recommendations from a computer…”, he took a sip of wine and added, “no computer will ever understand why I like music.”
A Socratic Rebuttal!
What’s this judgment? Seriously, guy, pass me the cranberry sauce, and then please explain what drives this sentiment? Sort of a John Henry vs. the steam-powered hammer thing? Matthew Broderick vs. WOPR thing? Will Smith vs. robots with glowy red chests? But really, what, renegade Roombas? Who’s in control of whom? Is it possible we got our roles reversed? It wouldn’t be the first time.
How are music recommenders a corruption of music culture? Similarly, how is the gramophone a corruption of live performance? How are CDs a corruption of that warm gramophone sound? How are digital sales destroying the CD cover-art culture? Does culture constantly crumble and erode, or does it march on and evolve? Were it the former, surely by now we’d be walking on all fours, bashing each other with femurs. But we’re not! Well. I’m not.
I love the idea that new trends are eternally abhorrent to the old and that old are eternally abhorrent to the new. It makes me proud to think I’m a small part of that composition. Or decomposition. Whatever.
A Quick Plug!