Archive | July, 2010

Pre-Dating: A social artifact of the digital age

26 Jul

As I lay poolside reading People Magazine’s StyleWatch, something on the “What’s IN, What’s OUT” list caught my eye. The magazine uses a term called “pre-dating” to describe the researching of one’s blind date’s online history before you actually meet with them. You might think that this would be under the OUT heading, filed under potential stage-five clinger, but no; the writer (ranker?) is in complete support of it. This is supposedly a “new phase of a would-be relationship!” (Their exclamation mark, not mine).

Although pre-dating is not a term I’m familiar with, it is a practice I have dabbled in. And honestly, who hasn’t digitally-stalked someone of interest? With a plethora of information about potential mates at the tips of our fingers, it’s very difficult to bypass the option of perusing someone’s tagged pictures or seeing how they describe themselves in their “About Me,” as if this filtered and self-produced information will somehow clue you in to the essence of their being. This pre-date research isn’t a new phenomenon, though; it existed prior to social media, as well. Before Twitter and Facebook became almost socially required, we’d ask our network of friends about an individual without the aid of the world wide web. We relied on others’ opinions of an individual to gauge whether or not we should go for it, or, more likely, whether or not the aforementioned person of interest was a creeper. Now that this information is online for (almost) anyone to see, we no longer feel the need to interrogate our peers about a certain somebody. We can locate that information on our own, as can any other of the millions of users who have access to it by signing up for an account (or sometimes by merely having Internet access, depending on how tight your privacy settings are).

An episode of “Let’s Talk About Pep” I once watched (don’t judge me) echoes this topic. One of Pep’s friends googled her date before dining with him. While People’s StyleWatch may approve this pre-date tactic, I’m sure as hell they would not have endorsed or encouraged her interrogation of him at the dinner table regarding crass comments left by other females on his Facebook wall. A mere two years ago it was considered somewhat of a social taboo to use social media as a source of information. This was not yet normal, nor something to be proud of. I recall a particular case of second-hand embarrassment I experienced while overhearing a young woman giving her boyfriend the third degree over some females whose friend requests he had recently accepted on MySpace (my friend and I hurried to finish our double-doubles and fries with our faces burning in shame for the poor guy). Now one of the most common answers to the question “Who told you that?” is: “Facebook.” It has become so embedded in our everyday routines that it has made talking about it in public, for the most part, acceptable. However, there are still some things that, even though universally practiced, should not be discussed at the dinner table.

So what is it exactly about this data-mining strategy that strikes me as creepy? I’m not quite sure myself. Maybe it’s because instead of going through humans to aggregate personal information, we now do this via a non-living, robotic medium. Sure, a human is willingly displaying this information for the world to see, but somehow this feels less authentic and more look-at-me than a friend’s testimonial. Or maybe the creepy-factor is that this new practice is so popular that it merits a positive ranking on a magazine’s IN list. I’m not saying it’s a bad habit that should be avoided; investigative Facebooking has cleared up many a confusion that my beer-goggles had created the night before. By all means digitally-stalk away, but let’s keep that shit on the down low in face-to-face settings.


Play Me, I’m Yours

4 Jul

A few weeks ago while listening to the radio I caught the second half of an NPR story on the New York Play Me, I’m Yours project. Up until today I had forgotten to find out more about it, but I’m glad I remembered to research it a little further. The Play Me, I’m Yours project is a collaboration between Sing for Hope and artist Luke Jerram. 60 pianos were placed throughout New York, each one boasting a unique appearance but all having the words “PLAY ME, I’M YOURS” scrawled across the front. Performers satiate their musical itch while spectators gather to listen and watch unabashedly. At the end of the project the pianos will be donated to schools and community groups in the spirit of the Sing for Hope mission.

There are some parallels that can be drawn between this project and social media. Tara Hunt describes the effect of social media as accelerating serendipity. People publish things about themselves that they wouldn’t necessarily send to an individual person because it isn’t a personalized interaction. Users of social media just “put things out there,” for lack of a better term. They make things known about what they’re doing or what interests them without making anyone else feel obligated to respond. But, seeing as we are highly social beings, we do respond. This increases and encourages interaction that wouldn’t have been possible with a message intended for a specific person or group. Instead of making tweets or status updates readily available to a network of followers or friends, this public piano project made vehicles of music accessible to anyone in the New York state area. By “putting them out there,” people respond by sitting down and playing something to demonstrate their musical prowess, whether it is as advanced as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 or as simple as a few bars from Heart and Soul. The project’s website allows additional interactive opportunities, displaying all the locations of the pianos with the option for participants to post photos and video depicting their experience.
The project also bears similar qualities to a collaborative community. There are no rules set forth about the usage of the pianos. The amount of time each piano-player uses is up to them and those who are waiting for their turn. Anybody walking off the street or into a building where a piano is housed is free to play it. In a state where you usually need a license to perform in public, this creates an additional liberating quality to the social interaction. The freedom this project allows is a lot like the freedom that the Internet gives journalists: anybody and everybody can do what was formally restricted to professionals for free.

I think this project is nothing short of amazing. It really shows how music can bring together the most random of people in the most ordinary of places. I fully believe that music is a social phenomenon, and that without another person or other people to share it with that special, unidentifiable quality it possesses is diminished. Luke Jerram saysthat the success of the project is based on the stories that result from the impromptu musical sessions. “I think it’s the stories that will come out over time — how people have connected, how it’s changed people’s lives, how they think about music and sharing that music,” he said. “There were two people who met over the pianos in Sydney and they just got married.” And that’s a perfect example of accelerated serendipity.