Moving in Stereo

It’s obvious that Peloton sells a kind of self-optimization — exercise as time discipline. But Spotify (a streaming service like Peloton) also trains listeners in how to attune emotionally to states (or vibes) that employers have deemed productive or speculatively valuable.

In the Mood

Ambient works once sought to intervene in an existing environment and re-attune one’s relationship to it — they function like augmented reality. Ambience videos on YouTube (think “lo-fi hip hop radio” or ” Rainy Night Coffee Shop Ambience”) are more like virtual reality, promising an off-the-shelf escape from the environment you’re in. Ambience ceases to be something shared and becomes instead something consumed.

Socialized Streaming

Music is a public good: It brings people together, it provides an outlet, an archive, and reflects the tenor of society at any given moment. We don’t currently conceptualize universal access to music as a public good, to be managed in the public interest with public funding. We should. We should think about socializing music streaming.

Give Me What You Want

As long as the subscription-box market successfully positions passivity as the ultimate convenience, its belief system will encourage customers to detach themselves from their own tastes and from consumerism at large and rechannel their newfound energy into becoming allegedly better, more productive human beings. Yet instead of liberating us from these supposedly wasteful competitions over taste and status, subscription boxes will have only intensified the cutthroat management and marketing of these attributes. Rather than rendering taste irrelevant, they will have reinscribed competitive taste as inescapably human.

Cold Discovery

The phrases “watching Netflix” and “listening to Spotify,” as opposed to watching or listening to something specific on them, suggest that these platforms denature their content and assimilate its identity into their own. While a book cover wrapped an individual work — an independently defined, freestanding unit of content — a platform interface wraps the entire collection of works that users can access through it. In the process, that collection becomes a slurry of fungible content that fuels the platform.

The Last Format

The mp3 seemed like the endpoint for music consumption, the last format: free, accessible, unencumbered, it enabled fans to enjoy their favorite artists with minimal interference by corporate entities. But, while it took a decade, the music industry found a way to dash those utopian hopes. The mp3 was just another format, after all, and eventually the industry managed to undercut its relevance, partly by appealing to the ideals it once represented.

All Ears

The mesmerizing freedom of streaming services traps us in a cycle of deskilled consumption that greases the wheels for deskilled production. Spotify offers not just escapism after work, but often, a lubricant to more easily get through the workday, background music specially fitted for any desk job. By dispensing with the contextual ornamentation, streaming services align themselves with other Silicon Valley productivity apps. The music may entertain but it also numbs.

Infinite Binge

If the show is to be influential and have a second, third, and fourth life in streaming channels and continued conversation, the plates have to stay spinning, forever, persisting through a viewer’s experience with other shows, other stories. Finales conclude their specific show, but in the process are also charged with imbuing the entire medium with a sense of renewable possibility: Though this story ends, all stories keep going, indefinitely.

Networked Listening

Streaming services, by delineating the post-possession future, are also stoking demand for its opposite, re-enchanting vinyl in the process. In on-demand streaming services, one listens to individual recordings, but these are not the “ceremonies of a solitary,” not as long as every click spins off information that is instantly privatized by outside parties. These contradictions keep the our understandings of public and private in motion.

Watch Again

The worst thing about housework, I always think, is that it doesn’t end. No sooner have you made everything tidy then you dirty a dish, or drop your laundry in the corner, leave a glass on a table. I’m accustomed to thinking about tasks as things you complete and forget about, like films. But the season of “finished” housework is vanishingly short, like the life of a gnat. You have to find a way to enjoy the process, or you are doomed to disappointment as you seek to enjoy its fleeting effects. It’s a serial mini-drama, completely predictable, often maddening.