This hangover wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and if another track about partying and sex came on, I was going to lose it. So I turned in a different direction and threw on a calming playlist to heal the head and massage the mind towards a state in which I could be productive at the library. Eventually, “Sympathy” by the Goo Goo Dolls arrived on my new Spotify account, and within minutes I had a text from someone complimenting my song choice. She’d seen my selection thanks to the conjunction of Spotify and Facebook. I like her and she’s pretty so I wasn’t creeped out in the slightest, but it left a feeling of slight invasiveness, as if someone were perched inside my head.
And so it got me thinking…
Is the arrival of Spotify simply another data point demonstrating the endlessness of Silicon Valley’s brilliant technology innovation? Or is it the catalyzing push down a slippery slope of invasive cyber-culture?
Spotify, a Swedish music application founded in October 2008, offers users access to nearly any song by any artist from any album. These songs can’t be transported onto a smartphone or iPod unless you’re a premium user, but basic users can still search for and usually find any song they so choose. Nearly all users have their accounts linked to their Facebook profiles, and with Facebook’s continuous update stream, the time between when a student hits play on Spotify in Chicago and when her high school friend in New York sees it on Facebook is seconds at most.
As Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook and had photo developers headed for the poverty line, blissful users gawked at how significantly Facebook was forever changing their world. No more losing touch with old friends. No more wondering if the girl was worth the cab ride home. No more keeping your inner quirks to yourself. Even after small adjustments alter its user interface and temporary hell breaks loose among complaining users, Facebook fanatics usually see the advantages to each new improvement, providing a realization that the geniuses behind the site may very well know our social preferences better than we do. If we never admitted it, we all thought it: Facebook is fucking perfect.
And yet here comes Spotify, the provider of endless online music, the little engine with the momentous potential to antiquate iTunes, the genius idea that is so simple but delights users in several ways. Nobody saw the potential greatness in letting other people see what music you listen to and in letting users have access to their friends’ trending playlists to diversify their own libraries. Nobody realized how cool it would be to view a friend’s playlist and either copy it to your library or subscribe to it for future updates. We’ve always talked about the music our friends like, but now we’re listening and subscribing to it with a single click.
There are no doubt complacent cynics at the exposition of each new revolutionary social application who say this: this one is as good as it gets. This technology is as advanced as it can or needs to be. Spotify serves as a counterexample. Just when Facebook was as cool as Buzz Lightyear, Spotify arrived and reduced it to Andy. Sure, Spotify is inextricably linked to Facebook, and without it Spotify wouldn’t have a social platform to share our music tastes. But the point is an encouraging one: our online world continues to change, continues to improve, and may do so for much longer than we think.
But do we want this? Or is the noticeable gain in momentum of cyberspace creation potentially harmful?
The double team of Facebook and Spotify begs an unavoidable question: are we seeing the end of privacy? Gone are the days when you had to tell your friends about your new relationship; they already know. Gone are the days when you had to burn a CD for your friend to share your newest songs; they already know you downloaded them. Gone are the days when emailing a relative an interesting news article sparked a much-needed conversation between you; they already know you read it. As love-seeking individuals, we thrive off of sharing with people, but these new technologies are sharing for us in a passive way that renders the conscious effort of our sharing obsolete.
Is this what we want? Should our future efforts of communication be reduced to passive following of other people’s behavior instead of making the extra effort to personally reach out and interact more intimately than through a computer screen? As you delicately think about these existential ideas, ask yourself:
Will you go explore your thoughts with your friend in the room down the hall? Or will you just post them on Twitter, for her to casually read sometime soon?