More on data processing

by Rob Horning

17 March 2006


I argued in a previous post that listening to music was becoming less an aural experience and more a data processing task, thanks the the metadata available for manipulation through iTunes. Organizing is becoming a more primary pleasure experience than the responsiveness of our senses. Soon, we dream in spreadsheets.

Hal Foster, in his essay “Design and Crime”—itself a play on Loos’s landmark manifesto against art nouveau decorousness, “Ornament and Crime”—explores this idea about data processing as well, linking it to the elevation of design as a product in and of itself. With the “retooling of the economy around digitizing and computing,” products are “no longer thought of as objects to be produced so much as data to be maipulated—that is, to be designed and redesigned, consumed and reconsumed.” In other words orchestrating playlists and loading album cover jpegs is a personal amateur design task, something that takes back some of the way these issues are settled beforehand (the subject of this previous post). It adds life to product already purchased, potentially freeing one from having to make another purchase to get the little bump of engagement and pleasure.

Much of this relies, in the music world, on metadata controlled and supplied by Gracenote, who provides the information that allows your computer to fill in all the song titles and so on when you rip a CD to your hard drive. Their business model relies on the importance of metadata to our listening experience. But the company is not without competition. Detailed here is an open-source service looking to eradicate Gracenote and promote the idea that metadata is public domain information, a shared cultural resource that makes culture—the public debate and shared enthusiasms for things—possible. All that’s well and good, but as metadata becomes more valuable, as it comes to supplant music as it has seemingly started to, it’s likely that the incentives will be strong to brand the information, make it exploitable as a resource. Services may compete to enrich that data, jazz it up with animations (album “covers” will become little movies, perhaps) and lyrics and DVD-style extras that point out alternates or making-of historical details. And the song will be more or less forgotten at some point, presuming the celebrities involved with making it are exciting enough.

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