Revelation by radio – the isolating price of personalization.

Like most, radio used to be my personal soundtrack growing up and like most, I eventually grew to get frustrated by its primitive experience, especially in face of the iTunes and Spotifys of the world. I mean, how could it compete with the access and quality of on-demand songs – exactly what and when you want.

But this morning, on an impulse, I hit the little FM/AM button. And out came loud voices talking about some silly experience at the grocery store.

I found myself listening – not because the story was particularly good or engaging but because it’s rare these days to hear random stories from random strangers. There was a quaint quality to it. I laughed at the obvious punchline of the story and was entertained.

Even the inevitable ads were tolerated because they spoke about local events and businesses – now a rarity in my programming now.

And then. The thing I miss most about radio happened.

A song I love and haven’t heard in ages, came on.

And like in my youth, I turned it up, declaring that it was a cosmic sign and that this was going to be a good day because the Radio Gods had deemed it so.

That. That feeling when “your jam” comes on. When’s the last time that happened to you?

We now live in this world where everything from our music to our news is perfectly “customized” to us and very little to left to cosmic happenstance or spontaneity. Even “radio” on Spotify is based on the learning data of songs that I already prefer.

We fine tune everything to within an inch of our preferences but aren’t happier than before.

It’s just like the radio – before, I was exposed to songs that I didn’t love but the sheer process of hearing them expanded my tastes and tolerances. The same is true when there were only a couple channels on TV or only the relatively few large newspapers.

And listen – I get all the ways we’ve progressed from the days of the large media conglomerates deciding the hits and the lack of access to lesser known viewpoints and approaches. I love love love being able to stream Hindi songs over Spotify or discovering that indie band that I would have otherwise not been able to do even 5 years ago.

But we we gained in access, we’ve lost in cohesion of common experience.

I miss the days when my horizons were expanded because I had no choice but to experience things that I didn’t think I “liked”. When I took favorites songs being played as cosmic good luck signs. When I didn’t have to add to my daily cognitive load to think about “what I felt like” listening to today.

I just hit a button and experienced whatever was streamed my way. Good bad and in-between. My patience was tested and developed, but so was my capacity for spontaneous joy.

We’ve gone so far away from the simplicity and the cohesion of these shared experiences that I worry how we’ll ever get back.

Radio was the last place that I thought I’d find an insight like this.

But then again, my jam is playing. And it’s going to be a good day.


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