I am quite a fan of Spotify, the online music service – so much so that I actually pay for it, and I don’t know many people who do that. Thus I find it a little disappointing that Spotify is trying to condition me. I almost feel a bit betrayed.
See what your friends have been listening to, it urges.
Why on earth would I want to do that? Not so much because I don’t actually have friends, I hasten to add, but because, though I really hope my friends are enjoying their choice of music, I am not likely to be influenced one way or the other. And just a minute – what friends are these? Does it know who my friends are? I get a faint whiff of decaying spam – is it possible that Facebook is involved somewhere here?
Ah yes – social networking. How nice.
Maria Seadyke is trending near you, says Spotify.
Who? – who is doing what?
You recently listened to Mantovani, says Spotify, why don’t you have a listen to Beethoven?
Well now, I don’t believe I have heard or even thought about Mantovani in forty years, and any connection with Beethoven seems a bit – how do you say? – oblique. This is an area where Spotify really goes to town on being helpful. The links for the suggestions are certainly lateral – tenuous to the point of blatant stupidity, though it may be ungracious of me to put it like that.
You listened to Loudon Wainwright III, it says – you might like Leadbelly.
Well in fact I do like Leadbelly – in fairly short bursts - but any possible similarity to LW3 eludes me, apart from the fact that they are/were both men who play guitar and sing. Just as mystifyingly, I find that Spotify seems to associate Otis Redding with Louis Armstrong, James Taylor with Richie Havens, Fleetwood Mac with Mud (that’s a very strange one – does anyone remember Mud?) and Thomas Newman with Samuel Barber.
My first reaction to this was that it must be some kind of expert system, something which interprets real marketing data and makes predictions based on what it has learned, but I have come to doubt it. I can’t believe that any expert system of this type would be quite so spectacularly dumb. I have decided (privately, like – for my own amusement) that these helpful suggestions for improving my quality of life are produced by a real intelligence – someone who has my best interests at heart. I find that I have attached a sort of personality to this being – I call him Bernard. No matter if he is a robot. I have come to spot signs of evidence of the presence of Bernard with something approaching affection. That he is rather a stupid robot makes him even more likeable – he even gets a sympathy vote.
Ah – there you are, Bernard, I say as I am informed that some punter named Jessie has uploaded a personal playlist which might interest me. How are you this morning? How’s the moonlighting going?
Because, you see, I have become aware that Bernard works for other online firms as well.
eBay, for a start, informs me that people who, like me, recently bought a bag of 27 broken lead soldiers from the 1960s also bought a vintage map of Leeds and a replacement exhaust pipe for a Vauxhall Astra. That has to be Bernard – you can recognize his style. Nice one, Bernard – that was good even by your high standards.
On Amazon, he has blossomed into a full email service.
Since you recently bought a book from us, says Amazon [come on, Bernard, that’s a bit broad – you can do better than that], you may be interested in the new best-selling paperback that Jeffrey Archer is about to dump on us [no – I told you it was too broad].
Or one of my favourites: We hope you enjoyed your recent purchase of “Campaigning for Napoleon” by Maurice de Tascher, and thought you might be interested in “Campaigning for Napoleon” by Maurice de Tascher.
Excellent – that’s really good, Bernard. I know you’re there – it comforts me, warms my heart, to know that you are still watching over us in this harsh, cruel world.
Mind you, there are some things that Bernard does which I haven’t quite got the hang of yet. No doubt I’ll come to appreciate these as well, but I’m still thinking about them. I just have to trust in him, I suppose. Recently I was looking in Amazon for books by Alan Bennett and by Charles J Esdaile (which makes me wonder what Bernard would make of that for a combo). As it happens, I didn’t buy anything, but within a day or two my spam filter caught emails from both of these gentlemen, asking me to be their friend on Facebook. As far as I know, Prof Esdaile is alive and well and probably writing another six books on the same topic as I sit here, but Alan Bennett is certainly as dead as the proverbial flightless bird from Mauritius, east of Madagascar (as opposed to Mauritius, Lancs).
Bernard, was that you? I’m not at all sure about that one. That maybe wasn’t in the best of taste. And while I’m thinking about it, was that you that spotted my search for the Conde de Penne Villemur on Google yesterday, and put adverts for pasta products on the screen when I visited Amazon later in the day? That was pretty clever, but please don’t do it again. And what are all these ads on my email browser for mature women in Thailand? – how am I going to explain those?
It’ll all be fine – I know it will. Bernard will sort it all out.