Last week, I was biking past yet another NYC construction site covered in ads. The defaced Celine poster, upon which a cranky purist had slashed an accent aigu in red lipstick, was gone, pasted over by an ad for what I understood to be a women’s razor company. The Harry’s for women, I thought. You know, disrupting the feminine razor space. The retro-ish typeface was clearly custom, heavy on the winking serifs. I sighed and thought, I’m sick of clever fonts. And clever ads. And “disruptions” to “spaces.”
It was a ridiculous thought, seeing as there are much bigger things to be sick of (not to mention how much I like fonts). But these days, I’m feeling like a curated cluster of data points linked to a credit card, a quantifiable bundle of preferences that can be directly marketed to. Whatever happened to a space of one’s own? A taste of one’s own?
I used to think that Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” playlist was tailored to exactly my tastes, unearthing the Pylon and Slits and Jonathan Richman buried in the substratum of my teenage heart, while introducing me to newer oddities. It saved me digging time, so I was grateful. But then I started to hear my special-snowflake songs at La Mercerie, in hotel lobbies, and at friends-of-friends’ homes. I even jokingly accused my ex of listening to my playlist when I overheard the rare demo of Ohia’s “Farewell Transmission” when I was picking up my son. (We shared an account until last year, so it was possible.) Nope. It was on “his” “Discover Weekly,” too.
I have come to understand why the fascinating artist with whom I was hitting it off music-wise at a dinner party two years ago stopped cold when I joked that Spotify sometimes saw into my soul. “Oh. You follow the algorithm?,” he said dismissively before turning to talk to the person next to him.
While I have allowed the algorithm to dial in my musical choices, driving routes, Instagram posts, even dating options, there are some things it will never be able to choose for me. Taste still accounts for something, as does plain old thoughtfulness. Today, sifting through the hypermarketed dreck to find something genuine feels like a tiny act of resistance.
Think of Xtine as a personal playlist. A one-woman algorithm. A collection of people, places, and things that I have tried and loved and paid for. In the coming months, I’m going to ask my favorite people to share their lists as well. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you love (and would like to see), too.