time to change the way we view music and the arts

Music: The middle ground amidst the arrival of (more) emotional data mining?

Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know

A line from Disney’s “Frozen” just felt all too appropriate for this one…
“Conceal, Don’t Feel” Online Image, This is a State of Grace 11 July 2014,

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The hot topic as of late seems to revolve around further inclusion and analysis of human emotion and that information from such being applied to strategies used by marketers, advertisers and brand designers, among many others in the advert industry. The idea in some circles is that this will become the next “hot commodity” for those sorts of people to garner and then use (read: exploit) I order to better fine tune the delivery of their intended marketing messages of product perceptions.

Facebook falling into some hot water over their initially non-disclosed emotional manipulation of users via positive and negative messages in feeds revealed at least a modicum of discomfort on the part of the public. However, as with most things that are new and uncommon, will the uproar die down if emotional data indeed becomes something of an expected tradeoff for using services or attaining products? Furthermore, are we really, actually upset over the concept of emotion mining or, is it just about the slowly but ever closing gap on how far away we can keep others from seeing our emotions now lined up against tools driven by hard lined facts?
An aversion to the latter over the former feels most likely, due to these two things:
  • Lack of ability to keep any semblance of emotional secrecy
(Pop culture reference! For anyone who is a fan of Grey’s Anatomy, here is a nice, literal analogy of someone who puts this idea very bluntly because that is her life, thanks to a medical condition and all without the “aid” of technology to divulge anything: “I can’t get mad, I can’t, feel happy, I can’t feel anything, without the whole world knowing. I can’t have a secret. Can you imagine living that way your entire life?”)
  • The fact that emotions are an inherently gray-tinted phenomenon of sentient condition means that placing them in heavily defined, steadfast categories via things like biometric machinery challenges the very nature of emotional fluidity and the potential for organic, authentic change. Emotions manifest in our thoughts, both consciously and subconsciously, in time faster than single instants.
If we know we are wearing, being watched or listened to by something that will reveal very strictly, how or what we are feeling, invariably our thoughts will at least partially dwell on that reality and that fact will flow over into an effect against our emotions –whether it amplifies them (e.g. anxiety/self-consciousness) or stunts them because of our attempt to avoid point number one listed above.
There is a willingness to show our emotion –down to very specific and verbalized articulations (e.g. from the old school “any additional comments” section of any survey, to the tech-infused, artistically driven manner of things like the butterfly Wishing Wall currently on display at the Barbican Centre in London for their Digital Revolution Exhibition.) and then, there is a taking away of that choice to disclose. We can choose our feelings but how will we go about making our decisions and how fully will they be revealed if we know they reside in a format discernible to anyone we meet, even if for the first time?


The butterflies for the Wishing Wall at an in-progress state of development.

Just to drive home the point with one more creative analogy, what if we all lived like Pinocchio? Technology widening its function at the rate it is, (here I am deliberately avoiding the word “advancing” because not everyone believes the new is a “step forward.”) the choice to allow some of our thoughts and feelings to be revealed only leaves leeway for a very slippery slope of more to eventually become included because technology is not going to revert; only move forward and aim for more specified material.
This pair of approaches to accessing emotional feedback is exactly where society is standing right now –a fork in the road if you will. In addition to visual art, music is an entire activity, and construct of thinking, that thrives on emotional disclosure form nearly every aspect of its existence. The songwriter has feelings that inspire and build a song, a band has feeling that shape a song’s recording and production and then the consumer has feelings that affect whether they like and pursue an ongoing aural relationship with said band. Once that relationship has been established, on some level, it is as though fans are carrying around a portion of their emotions for all to see, in a very plain, transparent manner, capable of being judged, anytime someone take out their music player or cues up a playlist.
However, even then, people can still find respite in the fact that no one knows the full, detailed reason we include a specific artist in our publicly viewable music players. The artist or group’s emotion that is intended for delivery upon listening (which makes associating with them partially like resigning oneself to a defined category,) otherwise boiling down to a personality element derived from a single genre classification, is certainly one factor that gets attached to listeners as a sensibly perceived reflection of our own emotions, mindsets or ideals. Yet, that does not necessarily HAVE to be the reason or even a reason, so therefore, some secrecy, gray area and option of choice for disclosure remain.
In this way, regardless of how discombobulated the industry’s working for profit, music (and its consumption) are right now, each continue to stand as entities that inherently manage a compromise between deliberate, trackable, emotional revelation and wanting to retain concepts like abstraction and unrestricted or undefined appeal. Music is like the “other, please specify” in the old school survey and the “hipster” in the metaphorical crowd of people that make up consumers and who the music industry’s advertisers believe can be intentionally molded and directed to fit a specific inventory or profit margin agenda.
That said, at least when it comes to music, maybe we have nothing to worry about, even if we should eventually, actually wear, our musical hearts on our sleeves?


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