Perhaps you're familiar with the concept of "Rick-rolling."
This is a Youtube-born phenomenon whereby some smart-aleck will either send you the link to Rick Astley's dreadful 1980s mega-hit "Never Gonna Give You Up" under false pretenses, or perhaps simply blast the song or video in your presence. I was "Rick-rolled" recently by a musician friend of my son. We were in my car, and the two kids were taking turns picking tunes on my iPhone, through which I pay a monthly fee to stream Rdio, a service similar to Spotify. This particular "Rick-rolling" hurt even more than the garden variety jest, though. Why? Well, Rdio offers a feature where you can link to your Facebook account so that all of your "friends" can see what your listening to. I have in the area of 2,000 "friends," many of whom are complete strangers to me. All of them had the opportunity to see, scrolling on the right side of their Facebook page, a note reading "Jeff Miers is listening to Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up' on Rdio." Ouch.
Recently, some glitch in my Rdio/Facebook tie-in has meant that whatever I am listening to pops up on my wife's Facebook page. If I'm streaming Porcupine Tree, for example, my wife's FB friends will all see a message suggesting that it is indeed her who is listening to Porcupine Tree. She's a bit miffed. "All of these people keep saying things like 'Wow, I had no idea you loved Gentle Giant and Ozric Tentacles so much!," she huffed recently, only half laughing.
I find all of this rather delicious, but it got me thinking. Isn't it just a little bit creepy that so many people are getting notifications about everything you listen to while you're streaming on Rdio, Spotify or one of the other similar services? Shouldn't some things be, oh, I dunno, kinda private?
In the plus column is the fact that you can potentially turn "friends" (and real friends, too) on to something they might not know about, and vice-versa. There's also the whole spurring-of-dialog factor -- whether it's of the "Dude, I love that Panda Bear album, too!" variety, or its counterpart, which usually involves mockery of one's musical taste. Either way, it's all good.
You can also offer a glimmer of your mood at any given time "Endless Summer" by the Beach Boys? You're probably enjoying your day. Coldplay? You better be in love or something, because otherwise, there's just no excuse! A playlist including Metallica and Lou Reed's "Lulu" and the all-feedback disc of Neil Young's "Arc/Weld"? Man, I ain't comin' over to your house! If you happen to have Roger Waters' "Amused To Death," Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" and The The's "Mind Bomb" in your "heavy rotation" folder, well, we will all have a pretty good idea of who you plan to vote for in the coming presidential race.
This is all fun, mindless stuff. There's clearly a downside, though. Let's say you want to indulge one of your musical guilty pleasures. Do you really want your whole Facebook universe to know you were listening to Barry Manilow sing "Weekend In New England" while crying in your beer? Let's say you went on a three-day Morrissey bender. God bless you, but wouldn't you rather that information stayed under your hat? If you're an indie-rock hipster, what will happen to your street cred if someone catches you listening to Emerson Lake & Palmer? (It better not be "Love Beach," or you're really in for it!)
What sticks in my craw about all of this has much more to do with Facebook than it does Rdio or Spotify. It all might be traced back to the birth of reality television, when suddenly, the boring minutiae of everyday life began to be presented as if it was somehow riveting, attention-demanding material. The sad truth is, a sizeable portion of the television viewing public accepted it as such, and then promptly became addicted to it.
Beneath the sort of Facebook posts that run something like "Feeling so happy and in love right now!" (Good for you!) or "Going to walk the dog, then turn in for the night" (Wow, thanks for sharing!) there lurks something vaguely sinister -- it's the notion that nothing is real unless you somehow share it with strangers. The need to let a whole group of "others" who may or may not be actual acquaintances of yours know what you happen to be up to, where you are, what you plan to do later -- well, it doesn't really scream "I'm in perfect mental health," does it?
Add to the list, thanks to Rdio and Spotify, the ability to share your every listening urge -- healthy or otherwise -- and you've got what amounts to mass voyeurism. I love all of you, FB family, but do you really need to know how many times I listened to the new Rush album? It's my secret, and I plan to take it with me to the grave!
Having said that, I'm having a blast messing with my wife's head by playing completely obscure progressive rock bands through my Rdio account, knowing all the while that her FB community is going to think it's her doing the listening. So maybe it's too late for me, after all...