Why sites like Spotify are destroying house parties
    We're very sorry for party rocking. Screenshot from Spotify.

    LMFAO's hit song “Party Rock Anthem" currently has 430,858,599 views on YouTube. This can only lead us to one conclusion: “Party Rock Anthem” is the greatest song in the history of music.

    Well, maybe there’s another possible reason that this song has decimated the play counts of so many others like it. Close your eyes and let’s Sherlock Holmes our way through this crime scene:

    You’re at a party in an off-campus house. The parquet floor dips underneath you as you survey the living room. There’s a laptop sitting on a dresser with a cheap auxiliary cord snaking its way up to a mantle with a cheap set of speakers on top. You approach. You shake hands with iTunes, but it doesn’t have that one killer song you know will go over so well. Simple enough: You YouTube it. Or Spotify it. Or Grooveshark it. It doesn’t matter. The song is there waiting for you, without fail, for the four-hundred-thirty-millionth time.

    If the story ended there, everything would be peachy. Everyone would be shuffling. A gay time would be had by all. But that isn’t where the story ends. A crowd builds up around the music device as more and more partygoers realize that they too can own a piece of that which humans desire most: control. Before long, you find yourself (and many others) biding their time, letting each song settle in for about 45 seconds or until the moment is right to change it to your own selection - whichever comes first.

    This is a concerning phenomena because it detracts from your own happiness and peace of mind (and possibly that of those around you). Why so serious? CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING: You’re in a film photography class and you develop two beautiful pictures of places you love on campus. You can pick one to take home, but the teacher will keep the other forever. In fact she is mailing it to Europe later. Or, you’re told that the other photo will stay in her office and you can come back to switch any time before the year ends if you change your mind. Which situation would you prefer? In the study conducted by psychologist Dan Gilbert (who spoke to a packed Pick Staiger in April), 66 percent wanted to be in the latter class with the option to change. But where their personal happiness is concerned, they were wrong - the irreversible group was significantly happier with their decision.

    Gilbert attributes this effect to the psychological immune system: the processes that kicks in to make you feel better when you cannot change your station (or the “station” while we are talking music). When you have no control, you rationalize and “synthesize” your own sense of happiness. You get used to the scenario, you tell yourself that things are what they are, and you make the best of the situation. This is what Gilbert calls “the unanticipated joy of being totally stuck.” But being able to change the song at any moment to any other song in the world of music leaves you plagued with what-ifs and terribly, hopelessly unstuck.

    In addition, the power to change the song can create an egregious violation of mindfulness: a word which here translates to “living in the moment.” If you’re thinking of what will be on two or three minutes into the future, then you aren’t present in the present moment. And studies show that mindfulness can be linked to mental health outcomes such as greater focus, emotional regulation, and even the longevity of brain cells. Since I am not writing for a scientific source right now, I’ll just say it: Be here now, don’t think about changing the music and you’ll live longer. Awesome.

    When everyone does opt to play what they want, all that free choice can undo the original purpose of Spotify and the music genome: discovery. The social pressures of being able to pick songs will push you to play the same reliable cards each time. Why take a chance on something obscure that will be promptly changed when you could easily show that cute girl or guy that you too enjoy Beyonce and Avicii? The power to stream creates a feedback loop that can keep each party safe on the song selection, because why play an unpopular song when you can play a popular one? At professional dance shows, DJs can charge for live shows and push play on another artist's song. This seems like strange science fiction, but perhaps soon these shows will be the last venues at which someone else will pick out the music for us and leave us with no option but to dance.

    It is worth noting that this is by no means a new problem caused by streaming online music. The problem began with Jobs’ gift to man, the iPod. Portable music devices created a demand for devices with a broad range of connectivity (e.g. auxiliary cables and iPod docks). Although it seemed insignificant at the time, I can still remember my first run-in with the“party-rock problem.” I was at a house party on the Upper East Side of New York in 2008. The hosts were from the very private school that inspired Gossip Girl. Not my scene. I removed myself from the soiree and sat at the kitchen table next to a then brand-new technology, the Bose sound dock for iPod. What a thought: Anyone with an iPod on them could drop it in and drop the bass. The personal music device had become a lot less personal.

    As I sat and pondered the sound dock, some Caddyshack-looking jebroni walked up to table and clicked around at the iPod with his friend. His disappointed expression silently revealed that his favorite bro-tunes were unavailable at the moment. But have no fear, he carried an iPod with him.

    “You know what this party needs? Some Weezy F. Baby!" For the young folks, Weezy F. Baby is what we used to call “Little Wayne.” I think. These were different times. Now, most houses have an iPod hookup and most people have an iPod on them (their iPhones – which include web connectivity). And thanks to Spotify and co., where there is web, there is all of the music. I don’t believe there is reason to fault any of these technologies—the responsibility to mediate their use lies in our hands. I think Spotify is a wonderful tool for parties because of its self-generating (a la Pandora) playlists. But to truly enjoy them we need to turn on, tune out, and drop out of the mix.


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