Monday, December 05, 2005

Monkey(s and) As(sides)

An Island of monkeys, a Conspiracy Theory, wrapped up in a large number of asides. -- Title needs revision

A phrase I read recently, on a page/blog whose address/USP has receded from me, was "downloading a lot of music these days, as I'm unemployed." (sic.)

Same here, but differently.

I'd linked to Pandora a couple of posts ago... In fact, I've been telling as many people as I can about it. If you haven't been there yet, here's a quick re-cap.

But/And, before the dawnings of other insights, an aside.

What if the internet functions like that island of monkeys whose story was narrated to me a travelling companion? (This was when) the two of us were on a beach, having stumbled through the almost neck-high water of a river flowing into the sea, walking amongst amazingly huge rocks, stooping every few steps to see if the shell catching our eye was worth keeping. Climbing over rock falls. Wondering if the tide was going up or down. If Butterfly Beach, separated from us by a hundred metres of deep sea, fast currents, and on the far side of the (next) island, could be reached some other day. Or on some other trip, preferably in the monsoon and not in tourist (when locals found even more outrageous ways to mint money from gullible beach-lovin' visitors.) season

Coming back to the monkeys and the(ir) story. Its end (not as telos, but as punch line) concerned scientific conclusions made after observing the aforementioned island. (Or maybe this whole story and its setting was just a construct, crafted to illustrate and explain a deeper set of points.) Seems, one day, a monkey discovered that when it threw a stone, something unusual and special (I forget what) would occur. (It's obvious that scientists were right there when this happened, equipped with fabulous understandings into primate behaviour patterns, just waiting for the first throwing, of the first stone ;-) ) Anyway, this monkey must've spent some time figuring out the principles of cause and effect, but since there just a few hundred of a like species around (I'm taking a take on the "typewriters + million monkeys + sufficient time = Shakespeare" joke) , they couldn't come up with typically Humean objections. (henhnehenh.)

Soon, other monkeys caught the throwing bug, and slowly the phenomenon spread...
(As if) like a meme on the internet ;-)

[[ I've been away from the blogosphere for so long, that I must've missed a huge number of pointless, resource wasting, flavour of the week/weak; the freaks and the fashions. That died out - that contained their deaths in their births - just because they were a diversion; a thing to copy; the mob following the lead of the blog-superstars, who gave it the currency of (an episodic) cool. But slow down before you flame me, my two dedicated readers (who are close friends, in real life.) Yes, I realize that I have participated in the mania of "all your base are belong to us", the desire for self-affirmation via, and the not-so-cute-one-inch-high-images-we-assembled-of-our-actual-appearances. Etc. What if things are different now? *winks* An Inevitable Counterpoint: "hey D, but didn't Shammi Kapoor proclaim in a recent 'India Explained' article that he was a netfreak. And a blogger to boot?? So, aren't you falling prey to the larger pattern of another assumed cool? Blogging itself?"
I'll end this ass-of-an-aside (within another aside) before you close the browser window, wondering what the point is. ]]

It is the question that drives us back to the point... So, we have all these monkeys, since monkeys see what monkeys do (and the other way round.) But they're a minority of the whole population. Travelling Companion's ('TC', henceforth) next line was, "that's when the incredible happened. When the number of monkeys slinging stones crossed a certain mark, say, a hundred, all hell broke loose, and, the entire simian population was soon infected with the project" (haha, someone's feeling clever with words and allusions today! Clever enough to get the domain name, actually.) "That's what is known as 'the tipping point' ", and it works in the same way that geometric progression zooms past (by leaps and bounds) linear progression.

Linking this up with Pandora: I don't remember where I first came across the link (and what made me click). But what if what we encounter on the internet (and how we encounter it) is similar to the monkeys-slinging-stones story/theory/idea? Where would we stand? Suppose the variable "X" is the number with which the phenomenon tips over... What am I then? the number X+1, in the moment of approaching the peculiarity? Or, to create another variable, "Y", which denotes how much further the tipping point might be... am I the number X-Y, a link in the chain?

I think the answer occurs in the vicinity of, first, the impossibility of their being any X at all. Secondly, the inanity of the desire, for being/becoming X.


To finally write about what I wanted
to write about...

Pandora is a combination of the following: a jukebox, a radio station, and a DJ dishing out the hits; all packaged in a slick 'how-did-they-do-it?' Flash interface. The operative logic behind their service: we (referring to people, not pandora's programmers) are now (but haven't we always been, as finite beings?) at a time, when, like everything else, there's too much music.

Too much music, and not enough time or information on tracks, albums, bands or genres, that we (might) like. Pandora's staff of musicians has spent (blah blah) lots of time categorizing tracks according to hundreds of parameters. One registers for an account, fills in any musical info, and begins receiving. Here's where the fun begins: as the emphasis is on the discovery of (previously unknown) music that might catch one's fancy, track after track streams through. Some of it you've heard before, some you haven't. Like Moodlogic in a way, but with tracks coming through a flash interface, and legally.

A quick dodge: my own practices of experiencing music have shifted a lot in the past few years. In the beginning (say that in a booming voice), there was dialup. With it, like infections picked up during hospital visits, came end-of-the-month bill tensions, busy phones, complaints from callers about busy phones, and parents at the end of their wits. Then, there was (the joke that is in India called) broadband. Now, there's an always-on unlimited time+data connection (that is paraded around as broadband. Bah.) Similarly, first, ftp, audiogalaxy etc. Then, Kazaa(lite), Bearshare, and {insert assorted p2p name}. Now, Bittorrent. Respectively.

With(in) the particularity of this trajectory, Pandora is an oddity. In fact, I even suspect it to be a devious ploy by the Evilness of Big Music. It doesn't allow a track to be played again. thereby negating the incredible, time-and-profit-defying "hear whatever I want, whenever I want" concept of hard disc based music collections. But most of all, it encourages two choices: "buy track from Itunes", and "purchase album from Amazon."

Yes, it is free (in version 2.0). Yes, it is smart. 'Cool' even. However, jotting down, then searching, then dowloading (all 'illegally', of course) for music isn't fun. (But nothing that's fun is easy, so...)

I had begun this post a week ago. As it stands now, it's just a bunch of asides. Examining the ideas I was making on the conspiracy front, I've realized the argument doesn't really go anywhere, because it ignores the biggest distinction between a music collection on a hard disc, and radio as a method of delivery: time. When you run your mp3 player, you can choose from amongst what you have. Yes, I have about five or six thousand tracks now, and can't identify all of them. But the fact that they reside on my hard disc means that, theoretically, the chance of repetition - of playing a track if I want to (and if I can find it) does exist. Pandora, and by inference, radio itself, is very different. Repetition, or control over it, isn't an option.

Effectively weakening my tirade against the evilness and machinations of Big Music. One argument proved, most of everything else disproved.

Hmm... this post has turned into a post-for-posting's sake. Well, stay tuned, and keep writing in ;-)


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