I’m listening to classical music. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to be exact. It’s beautiful, engaging music. Rising, cresting, falling; painting pictures in my mind as I work. Somewhere between the swirling of the fall leaves and the start of the winter snow, I’m interrupted.
“Rock on with AC/DC, Def Leppard and other rock classics!” A guitar starts a mad rift of chords, electric and bass. The voice over guy yells, “Relive your past or experience something new on Spotify!”
I’m listening to classical music. Classical! Hit me with a Beethoven commercial or a Bach soundbite. What are the chances that I’m going to actually grab my mouse, switch genres, and start jamming to some, Let There be Rock?
The chances aren’t good, and that’s why Spotify announced last year that they were going to start targeting advertising in late 2014. After all, targeted ads are proven to increase revenue and click-throughs. But it hasn’t happened just yet, and with all the commotion about Taylor Swift pulling her music, and artists complaining they’re not getting paid what they’re worth, I’m glad. Spotify is doing something right, even if it’s just temporary mistake.
Take a look at your Facebook page. It’s the ultimate targeted experience. You’ve surrounded yourself with people who have the same views, same likes, same dislikes and same beliefs as yourself. Few of you actually have friends who have different views, and even if you do, they don’t show up in your news feed that often. Look at the ads that are displayed in your feed as well. They’re tailored to what you like, and it increases the likelihood that you’ll click one of those ads and ch-ching! Someone, somewhere, made some money. Unless it’s one of those Christian singles ads, that nobody clicks- Just because you’re a Christian and single, doesn’t mean you’re looking for “Hot Christian Singles in Your Area!”
Even I recognize my Facebook page as a narrow section of my world view. I have few friends with diverse viewpoints, and the people that are volatile are hidden from my feed because they cause too many fights. I can’t keep up with their nonsense during the busy day. I’m in a few groups that post things that are contrary to my worldview, but I’ve hidden most of the members on those groups as well, just to give myself a little bit of peace when I scroll through my feed. Even though I support most members of these groups, it’s hard to see dozens of posts a day that I can’t agree with. I’m wrong by hiding these posts- hiding these people- but Facebook allows me to do it, and they profit from the way that most people want to function in their social life.
See, real life doesn’t work this way. I can’t just go outside of my house, go to a meeting, work or the store without experiencing people with different views. I can’t just hide and ignore those people, even if it would make my life more convenient.
On a micro level, targeted advertising still exists apart from the Internet. For example, I’m more likely to see salsa next to chips, and a food billboard next to an exit, but there isn’t a practical way to “hide homeless man” or “remove People Magazine from your checkout lane.” As we become more reliant on digital technology, we will start seeing more targeted advertising affecting us outside of the net, and this is a bad thing for you and me, because it closes us off from the reality that we’re not the most important people in the world.
Even this article, which you found through Google or through Facebook or through Twitter, is brought to you by targeted preference, and that’s just a little bit scary, because it’s part of the way that your lifestyle has already been picked for you.
I don’t get the luxury of missing the screaming electrics of AC/DC because I don’t like it. I don’t get to skip the Bach commercial either. I’m subject to whatever the advertiser puts out there, and because of that, I’m more likely, even if it’s just a small chance, to broaden my horizons. I’m more likely to try something new. The Internet shrinks with targeted advertising, and removes what people call the spice of life: diversity. Spotify may not be the best company, but right now, I don’t think it’s too far of a shot to say that they’re saving humanity by preserving diversity.