Montaigne and the New Pornographers
August 21, 2011 § 1 Comment
Joe Bonomo, an interesting, fresh, often of the music essayist and Brevity veteran, blogs this week about how his Last.fm music account (and by association, the myriad ways that we socially network our lives) is perhaps just one more way of assaying a life. His opening is quoted below, followed by a nifty link to his full post:
The decade-old Last.fm is a music website that, among many other features, allows me to “scrobble” my iPod and iTunes, so that whatever I’m listening to is entered in my music profile under my “Recently Listened Tracks”—updated in real time, if I’m scrobbling at home while listening to iTunes or to last.fm’s Internet radio, or later after plugging in my iPod. This provides a very cool and utterly accurate record of my listening habits and tendencies, allows me to see what my lastfm friends (many of whom are actual friends) are listening to, or have listened to, and gives me the opportunity to sample recommended playlists or to dip into said friends’ libraries, opening up a vast array of artists and songs and albums that I otherwise wouldn’t hear. It’s all very 21st Century, all very amazing, something that, though it’s unimaginable now, will one day seem quaint or archaic, like so many lid-lifting advancements on the web.
What interests me about lastfm beyond all of this is its conspiring role in shaping persona, that is, my persona. I’m an autobiographical writer and essayist; my persona is shaped, rendered, consumed. Last.fm and sites like it provide a profile and recommender system that together behave as a kind of digital self-portrait. Is this the new autobiography? “Profile data,” indeed. Provided that I’ve enabled scrobbling, anyone who wants to can eavesdrop on what I’m listening to now, or if he really wants to, discover what I was listening to on, say, January 19, 2009 (among other songs, the New Pornographers’ “It’s Only Divine Right” and Shoes’ “Shining.” Hmm, a pop day). Remember listening to records, tapes, or CDs alone, with headphones, on a rocking chair in the rec room or up in your bedroom, eyes shut tight against the music and the world? Through last.fm I can now invite anyone in, friends and strangers, and say Hey this is what I’m digging now do you know it do you have anything else by them who else sounds like them?
But what if I don’t want you to know what I’m listening to? The Recently Played Tracks feature is a cracked window into my life: what you think you’re seeing is distorted. As in an autobiographical essay, I’m in charge, confidently, shamefully. I see what I want you to see. I’ll confess that I sometimes disable scrobbling if I’m in, say, a helpless Paul McCartney mood, lest I look lame; other days I say, Who am I kidding, McCartney’s great, who cares if I get to “Maybe I’m Amazed” via “Only Love Remains”?