Tuesday, November 08, 2005

They're Listening

Last.fm is an interesting, social web-based resource that tracks what users listen to on their computers, connects them to other users who like the same kinds of music, and even provides for creating personalized web-radio stations.

Part of me gets a real kick out of this. I like other-than-mainstream music, and I'm always looking for new bands. Last.fm lets me see what other people who listen to what I like are listening to. Great idea. A quick peek at the site has already shown me a few new bands I need to check out. But I haven't created an account.

The idea of the site keeping an ear on my listening habits at my computer makes me uneasy. Call it Big Brother Lite, the masses slowly giving up their privacy, slowly revealing more and more of themselves online. With other web-based resources, I choose which pieces I keep public or private. From my admittedly quick look, last.fm takes it all and puts it out there for everyone to see.

Privacy aside, the homogenization of listening tastes is also bothersome. I worry about the flattening of experiences that may come from connections and recommendations based on my favorite music. Ideally, the social aspects will lead to tangental discoveries that help people stretch beyond their comfort zones, but the lure of the comfortable is strong. What is lost by not having a good DJ, either on the airwaves or streaming across the internet, mixing up the music and bringing strange new experiences to our ears.

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