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The Emperor’s New Ping

3 September 2010 One Million Watts 5,695 views One CommentPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

I used to think I didn’t care about how I appeared online. I joined social networks willy-nilly and put little or no thought into them, but it wasn’t what I put on them that mattered. It was what I left off.

Let me explain what I mean with an example. I have a friend who is a self-described anarchist. He has lived a fairly fringe existence and uses phrases like “living off the grid” and “the man” without even a hint of humor or irony. He’s had his problems with the law and when last I had contact with him, more than 10 years ago, we had our share of arguments. But when he sent me a friend request on Facebook, I was actually excited to hear from him, and I added him right away.

His profile page was filled exactly what you would expect. He likes a ton of bands and books I’ve never heard of (and, of course, “Fight Club”), goes to Burning Man when he can, and displays a list of quotes that would probably raise the hackles of the secret service if they ever happened to read them.

Based on my past interaction with him, I assumed that that his Facebook profile was a representation of his true identity. But after having unfettered, constant communication with him on my news feed for more than a year, I now know that while he spends some of his time on politics, mostly he plays Farmville and likes videos of otters playing with rocks. Oh, and cats. Lots of cats. Especially cats with hilarious things typed on them.

I guess bringing down the system means you have an abundance of free time to play online games in between boycotts and joining groups about how Glenn Beck is less popular than a sock. My friend may think money is an illusion, but he’s more than happy to share the chest full of gold coins he found buried in his imaginary cornfield.

Done correctly, social networking can be hard work. Finding that old friend on Facebook demonstrated to me how your social media accounts are not you, but merely what you choose to share of yourself; they create an image of who you are. Basically, it’s your own personal brand. Sharing less creates a stronger, more focused image. For all the doomsayer’s warnings about privacy, the guardians of your internet information can only reveal what you give them. They don’t actually have a camera into your house that shows people what you’re actually doing in your private moments.

But that’s not the case with Apple’s new music-themed social network. Ping tells people what music you buy and what kind of music you like. Obviously, Apple isn’t doing this for their stated reason, which is to help you connect with your friends; they just can’t/won’t come up with a store structure that makes it easy for you to find new music. So they hope that you and some of your favorite celebrities will do the selling for them.

The first thing that came up when I signed on was a suggestion that I follow Diddy and Rick Rubin. Both of those guys have record labels and produce albums. Don’t you think they have enough ways to communicate what they like? I hate to break this to you, but they aren’t really your friends. Diddy would like your money; he doesn’t really care about connecting with you unless he stands to profit somehow.

At its base level, Ping is really opt-in advertising. Apple and its music-industry lieutenants want to pressure you into buying music through them because all your friends are buying it. It also lets them comment on your purchases. Here’s my comment on Ping: Since I’m not making any money on the deal, why am participating in this? Especially since it’s likely that knowing what music I listen to will make you think less of me.

This peer pressure is similar to that you experience in some indie record shops. Often, if you care what they think, your purchases are influenced by what you think the hipster clerks might think of them. Maybe you put back that Tom Petty album and picked up that MGMT album that’s playing way too loud. With Ping, you can expand that influence to random strangers. I may never buy music again with all these social consequences.

I know, there are other music nerd sites that do this already, but those are for a select few. Your Aunt Martha isn’t going to ask to be your friend on Last.fm, but everyone with an iPhone uses iTunes and will soon be beating down your door to find out what you’re listening to.

For some unexplainable reason, I compulsively join every social network I run across. So, I will join Ping. I will follow a few musicians and give access to pretty much anyone that asks – and in the process, I will give up being cool. I can present a carefully crafted face to the world in all other areas, but the music I actually like is either weird or embarrassing.

As you have probably gathered from reading Monkey Goggles, some of the writers here have great taste in music. They mention songs they love and have a soundtrack to their lives. I have a few musical acts I like a lot and tons of weird stuff, but my already shaky public image will be brought to its knees by Ping. Peer respect will be lost. Damage will be done. Novelty songs will be held up for ridicule.

In conclusion, you are welcome to follow me on Ping. But only if you promise not to ask why I listened to Gwen Stefani’s “Yummy” 10 times in a row while I was getting ready for work.

David Wahl


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One Comment »

  1. Thanks for the well-observed how-to (and how-not-to) on social networks. Admirable writing. I say that with some reluctance because I feel that people’s egos are taking over the world, and I’m cautious about feeding anyone’s ego. Thanks for writing that first half.

    As to Ping: I’m a little slow, so I haven’t investigated it yet. It sounds like it might be alright, if one keeps one’s wits close at hand (Diddy and most others really don’t want to know what I think).

    I would love to see the world change in (at least) one profound way–to a place where people feel they can be less guarded about what they like. Currently, to state a like is to be vulnerable to dismissal. To criticize something, to state a dislike, is to be seen as discerning, hip, cool, etc.

    I’m guessing this pervasive reward system for the act of disliking stuff insidiously contributes to the amount of depression in the world. That would be very unfortunate indeed.

    Keep writing. I’ll keep reading.


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