Does hip-hop still exist?
I love music. I work in an open office, one big room with 45 people, which makes it pretty loud sometimes, so it’s convenient to be able to put headphones on and listen to music when I need to focus. But the truth it I’d probably be doing it anyway.
I’m serious about music too, I subscribe to Pandora as well as Spotify, because I’ll get a new band recommendation from Pandora and then I want to check their entire oeuvre on Spotify. My latest obsession: Muse, especially this song. Muse is like the new Queen. Pandora knew I’d like Muse because my favorite band is Bright Eyes, which makes me pathetically emo, but I also like the Beatles and Elliott Smith, or whatever. I don’t know exactly how the model works, but the point is they’ve pegged me and good.
In fact it’s amazing how much great music and other stuff I’ve been learning about through the recommendation models coming out of things like Pandora and Netflix; those models really work. My life has definitely changed since they came into existence. I’m much more comfortable and entertained.
But here’s the thing, I’ve lost something too.
My oldest friend sent me some mixed CDs for Christmas. I listened to them at work one recent morning, and although I like a few songs, many of the them were downright jarring. I mean, so syncopated! So raw and violent! What the hell is this?! It was hip-hop, I think, although that was a word from some far-away time and place. Does hip-hop still exist?
I’ve become my own little island of smug musical taste. When is the last time I listened to the radio and learned about a new kind of music? It just doesn’t happen. Why would I listen to the radio when there’s wifi and I can stream my own?
It made me think about the history of shared music. Once upon a time, we had no electricity and we had to make our own music. There were traveling bands of musicians (my great-grandmother was a traveling piano player and my great-grandfather was the banjo player in that troupe) that brought the hit tunes to the little towns eager for the newest sounds. Then when we got around to inventing the radio and record players, boundaries were obliterated and the world was opened up. This sharing got accelerated as the technology grew, to the point now that anyone with access to a browser can hear any kind of music they’d like.
But now this other effect has taken hold, and our universes, our personal universes, are again contracting. We are creating boundaries again, each around ourselves and with the help of the models, and we’ve even figured out how to drown out the background music in Starbucks when we pick up our lattes (we just listen to our ipods while in line).
Keep in mind, as well, that there’s really one and only one goal of all of this, namely money. We are being shown things to make us comfortable so we will buy things. We aren’t being shown what we should see, at any level or by any definition, but rather what will flatter us sufficiently to consume. Our modeled world is the new opium.