Picture this: you’re working. You open Spotify to listen to some Giveon, a truly timeless artist whose roster of hits resonates across the masses You land on “Favourite Mistake” and listen to it again, and again… and again. Suddenly, it dawns on you that the track is the only one you listened to all day.
What if that wasn’t a choice and you had the free will to make it? What if you had to listen to the same song over and over again, not because you enjoy it but because it’s the only thing available for you to listen to? How would that affect your relationship to music? I set out to find out.
I opted out of Spotify’s (and Pandora’s and Apple Music’s) “suggested, just for you!” lists for a full week. I chose a single song and listened to it, and only it, for seven straight days. Think of it as a juice cleanse of sorts: I stripped my diet of just about any type of food except for one and monitored the effects of the undertaking on my psyche and my body.
I set up some rules to guide me through the week: Every time I was itching to listen to music (while exercising, while sitting at my computer, while getting ready to leave home, while in the shower, while driving), I was only allowed to vibe to the selected track.
As for the criteria behind the song selection – given my recent obsession with Jazz and Neo-Soul (amidst a pandemic, the genres exude the sort of calm we all need) – I landed on Charlotte Day Wilson's "Take Care of You," featuring Syd. The Canadian R&B artist’s music proved to be a worthy pick after 109 playbacks.
When I first set out to become the subject of my own self-invented experiment, I thought the endeavour would highlight the very negative aspects of our culture, indicating that the free will we’ve basically given up on is actually a necessity when it comes to consumerism.
Since the early 2010s, the information that gets thrown at us across different mediums has been dictated by our own likes and dislikes. The screens we carry in our pockets spit out songs, products, ads and articles that the powers of the Internet deem to be appropriate for us, based on what we browse and search for all day.
Paradoxically, the free will I employed to stay away from a computer-generated abyss of musical recommendations ended up spurring an itch to dive into the abyss out of my own free will. I wanted to follow Spotify’s lead and listen to Moses Sumney and Raveena – similar artists to Charlotte Day Wilson. I wasn’t really thinking about whether clicking on a suggestion would render me a robot. After all, the algorithm that picked Sumney out of an endless roster of music was tailor-made to my own specifications. I might not have asked Spotify to analyse my behaviour, but I would definitely find pleasure in the results of said analysis. Did it really matter that it all originated from a non-human entity?
The week got me thinking: could technology’s most distinctly appealing characteristics also be the cause of people’s unhealthy obsession with phones, apps and screens? Not only did I come to appreciate and occasionally need whatever algorithm allows Spotify to suggest new music, but I realised that perhaps my new disposition didn’t amount to heresy. Which is all to say: although a life completely dependent on technology sounds unsustainable both socially and emotionally, you will no longer find me scoffing at the suggested “just for you” prompts that Spotify constantly serves me.