Monthly Archives: July 2011
I’ve wanted to write about this for quite some time, and now I finally am able to sit down and do so. I have decided that I need a formal way to refer to a trend in literature that I see constantly increasing.
Today, as we look around our world, we can see something truly amazing. Not only are there footprints of where other real people have been, but many people who, in fact, do not actually exist have left metaphorical footprints all over our planet. 221B Baker Street, Platform 9 3/4, and The Bates Motel are all examples of places that existed only in an author’s mind, but have since manifested themselves physically. “Official sites” for Lost’s Oceanic World Airlines and Dharma Initiative, Facebook and MySpace pages for characters in the film Cloverfield, and political campaign sites for The Dark Knight‘s Harvey Dent are all readily available on the internet. Quite simply, reality and fiction are blurring. As the marketing company for Reese’s peanut butter cups might put it, “Hey! You put your fiction in my reality!…Hey! You put your reality in my fiction!”
I call this trendy method of storytelling “the Carmen Sandiego effect” with a tongue-in-cheek nod to one of my favorite computer games as an eleven-year-old,Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. For those of you who have never played, or simply don’t remember very well, here’s how it worked: you were an ACME detective agent sent to arrest the notorious thief, Carmen Sandiego. Unfortunately, however, she always seems to be one step ahead. Whenever you arrive at one venue or another, Carmen has already been there and stolen what she wished for. But, she leaves clues behind with the citizens of the locale and even objects which may have some importance to the case. It is your job to string together her plan of where to go.
The key here is that the action has already happened. The basic elements of the story are laid out, but not revealed to the player. Instead, the player must figure out what happened and how. Just like this, authors and artists that take advantage of the Carmen Sandiego Effect leave only evidence so that the consumer, whether reading, watching, or exploring, can discover the story for him- or herself. This creates an entirely new dynamic, giving the consumer a deeper investment into the outcome of the story and making him or her feel as if he or she is really a part of the story.
That’s right, I went this entire post talking about fake realities and didn’t even mention the word “Simulacrum.” Oh… wait.
Well, after years of quiet anticipation, it’s finally here. Spotify, the famous streaming music service which Brittons and Frenchmen have been loudly bragging about since 2008 just landed in pre-release status here in the United States, and I was lucky enough to have one of the first accounts. Unfortunately, though, the features of Spotify appear to have lost their sheen over time, and products that have the same features seem to have beaten Spotify to the punch.
The major distinguishing feature of Spotify is its attractive price point: zero dollars. That’s right: on Spotify, you can listen to all the music you want FOR FREE, and it’s legal! However, there is a huge catch: advertisements. They aren’t little advertisements either. Though they only last 15-45 seconds, these advertisements have to be the most annoying, poorly targeted ads I have seen in any of these services, including Spotify’s notoriously annoying rival, Pandora. All of the ads I received in the last week have been significantly louder than the audio which I was listening to before, meaning that they totally blew my ears off. There is also no policy preventing ads from appearing in between tracks on gapless albums. Personally, the reason I like gapless albums is that they’re NOT chopped into little pieces, so having the tracks surgically separated by a third party doesn’t sound so great.
Unlike rivals Pandora, MOG, and Rdio, Spotify requires that you install an application on your computer in order to listen to music. Though this is a huge drawback if you’re on a public computer, the advantage is immediately clear: the UI on Spotify is ten times better than anything you can expect to get out of the web based services. An iTunes-like interface provides you access to the cloud music library and local MP3 files on your computer, while a Ping-esque sidebar connects to Facebook and shows your friends who are fellow users of Spotify. You can then explore their playlists and tastes. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the Facebook features working, no matter how hard I tried.
I wish I could say the Spotify experience on Mobile Devices was as elegant. Spotify has an app that looks exactly the same over both iOS and Android, but neither of them work with the free service. That’s right: you need to pay 5-10 dollars a month so that you aren’t tethered down to your home computer.
The true success of Spotify, though, is in the depth of its catalog. Almost every artist or album I could think of, no matter how obscure, had a presence on Spotify, with two notable exceptions: Sons of Kirk (a friend’s independent band) and The Beatles (whose Apple Record Corp. has an exclusivity deal with iTunes).
Spotify may be a fun distraction from my current cloud music solution, Google Music, but the fact of the matter is that it provides nothing which the other music on demand services do not offer. Spotify was special only because we couldn’t have it.
UPDATE: I now disagree with many of the things I initially wrote in this review. For an update, see Why I Switched to Spotify.