September 18, 2014

NEEDELL |Opting Out of Innocence: Apple’s First Misstep

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You’ve probably been there before. And if not, please, just imagine with me.

The party is just starting. It’s mostly just a bunch of your friends and the music is still pretty low-key. It’s the perfect opportunity to throw the speaker jack into your phone and show off that new album that you have been listening to on repeat for the past week. If somebody is going to break my heart and insult my music library, I do not want it to be an album I never even wanted prompting the complaint.

You get a few songs in, and you’re grooving. Feeling good, feeling great.

You notice that some more people are trickling in and the party’s starting to pick up. About time for a change of pace. You go over to pick a new song, when you notice a couple of strangers scrolling through the selection. You linger to see what they choose.

And then the bomb drops.

“This music all sucks.”

You stop dead in your tracks. The ground beneath you begins to shake. Tiles crash down from the ceiling. You take one final gasp of air, before you collapse into a pile of ash and dust.

Or maybe that’s just me. But even if the insult does not lead you to your own personal apocalypse, there is no denying that such a criticism stings.

People are invested in their music libraries. The tunes that you choose to carry around on your person are special. They say something about you — your personality, your interests, your emotions, or simply how hard you like to party. It lets somebody know what your “scene” is — whether you are the type to roll all night at E-Zoo, or if you would prefer to kick back with the Townies at Grassroots.

The reason why it can be so soul-crushing to have your music preferences insulted is because, in a weird way, they speak for your soul.

Conversely, this is the same reason why you get so excited when somebody plays a song by your artist (hell, I nearly crap my pants any time somebody plays anything by Chance the Rapper or Rhye).

And this is part of the reason why millions of people rushed to get U2’s Songs of Innocence off their iTunes faster than a hacker steals nudes off of “the cloud” (too soon?).

As I’m sure many of you noticed, U2’s latest album was automatically uploaded to over 500 million iTunes accounts on October 10, presumably to hit consumers with a jab-uppercut combo on the same day as the iPhone 6 release.

According to Apple’s website, “At Apple, music has always been a big part of who we are and what we do. This is the biggest album release in music history and one more way we’re moving music forward.”

You hear that? Records were broken. Who cares if Apple had to help move it forward and down our throats?

This surprise “release” was a mind-boggling blunder from a technology superpower that is traditionally spot on when it comes to marketing to their target demo of teenagers and young adults.

Between the increasing public awareness about the dangers posed by Big Data and cloud hackers and the fact that U2 has not been “hip” in practically a decade, it is not surprising that people were not very happy about the gift.

Predictably, backlash from this surprise gift has been enormous. So huge, in fact, that Apple had to launch a website designed specifically for people to remove the album from their libraries ( — you’re welcome).

And as heartbroken Bono may be to find out not everybody wants Songs of Innocence in their music libraries — even for the price of nothing — this is not really about U2 at all.

Most obviously, this is an issue of privacy. One would think that they would know better than to access millions of people’s personal libraries after all the internet-breaking hysteria over the recently leaked private celebrity photos — lovingly dubbed as “The Fappening.” But I don’t want to focus on that.

Beyond privacy, Apple crossed a more personal line. By putting Songs of Innocence into my music library, Apple decided that it could speak on their customers’ behalf.

“Evan Needell? That’s a guy who likes stage names and big, colored sunglasses.”

Okay, that was a cheap shot. But you get my point.

In today’s society, where people and their music are virtually inseparable, access to music is essentially infinite, and the presence of music is practically constant, the unwanted inclusion of any artist or album to one’s playlist or listen history is akin to slander.

If somebody is going to break my heart and insult my music library, I do not want it to be an album I never even wanted prompting the complaint.

No, if my music “sucks,” it is going to be the fault of my own crappy taste in music. Not Apple’s.