Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dear Letter Writer - You're Doing It Wrong

I report that an opinion with which I disagree has appeared in a magazine. The magazine is the July 26 2010 New Yorker, and the speaker is a letter writer from Vermont:

It [Pandora] might be fine for research, but a steady diet of music based on tunes you already know and like is a sure way to limit one's musical horizons. On the occasions I've visited Pandora, I was hungering for escape within fifteen minutes. All this new technology has yet to improve on the old radio model: putting yourself in the hands of independent, passionate, and deeply knowledgeable disk jockeys -- the likes of which can be found at New Jersey's incomparable WFMU, for example -- and following them blissfully into the world of unknown and unexpected sound.
Dearest Vermonter, you're doing it wrong, and by that I don't just mean the shift from "you" to "one" in the first quoted sentence.* I mean Pandora: if you want Pandora to expand your musical horizons, then use it to do that.

How? By inserting some channels for performers you have barely heard about. When Pandora's like-begets-like algorithm tosses forth another performer that seems even more obscure, make a channel for that one, and continue in this fashion for as long as you wish. The point is, there's no reason you have to use the tool to go from like to like -- you can just as easily use it to go from known to unknown. Voila.

Speaking of all that, the point about technology is especially weak given that thanks to the internets, I can listen to New Jersey's incomparable WFMU any time I want; without it, I would have had to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles to its relatively small broadcast radius to do so. In turn, this means that my musical horizons are now mere mouse-clicks away from the cuddling hugs of the DJs of New Jersey's incomparable WFMU.

I am not suggesting Pandora renders expert DJs obsolete. I'm not even sure Pandora is suggesting that, and for now at least, I am not aware of any compulsion or even strongly-worded request to choose between them. I enjoy both, and I see nothing stopping others from the same.


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* I have never, ever made this mistake.

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