Opinions

From Mixtapes to Playlists: Media Personalization in the Digital Age

Posted by Christoph Babka on October 12th, 2012 at 9:01 am

As consumers, we are compelled to not only own products, but to make those products our own. Personalization stems from a desire for control and a passion for self-expression. Experts who identify or create trends in culture are now commonly called “curators.”  Anyone who creates a Facebook page or programs a DVR is a master at curation – taking mass media and grouping elements together to illustrate what they like and, on a deeper level, who they are. Curation is an art form that technology has made accessible to the masses.

A long, long time ago – or rather back in the early 90s – I was known for creating the “raddest” mixtapes. With a poet’s precision and a mathematician’s wizardry, I’d create a journey of aural adventure etched onto a dual-sided canvas of blank cassette tape. What devastation when the record button slammed up with 7 seconds remaining of Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing!” My teenage brain frantically searched for a shorter track that would organically flow from “Bust a Move.” The process would take an entire evening, but in the end I would have a mosaic of sound that would serve as an epic birthday present, acclaimed party launcher, and motivational jogging companion.

Today, minutes before heading to the gym, I dump a handful of MP3s into an iTunes playlist and race out the door. With a few rapid-fire mouse taps, I rearrange songs and tracks into a vast collective that knows no limits of time or space. What’s lost in this process is the meticulous craftsmanship of working within limited parameters of personalization. What’s gained is an unlimited canvas with highly advanced tools to amass content.

While the latter may seem preferable, I ask you, which art project would a mother be more inclined to post on the fridge: her child’s finger painting on construction paper, or a print screen from DoodleBuddy for the iPad?  Both are creative expressions of individuality, but only one warms the heart because of the heart that goes into it.

Looking ahead at the post-Millennial iGeneration, I wonder what technological hardships will they endure in a future where media consumption is even – somehow – easier? What will their “Back when I was your age…” story become when they wax nostalgic about today?

Only time will tell. And the key to surviving to the point where you can tell that story is adaptation. Adapt to new technologies, adapt to the way new generations use that technology, adapt to both the impossibility to control the world around you and the potential to carve your identity within it. And how does one adapt? By learning. Learn about the way things have evolved, learn about the hardships people endured to make life easier, learn about the core human needs that transcend generational differences.

Honor the painstaking precision of a mixtape and respect the gentle crafting of a Pinterest page. “Back when I was your age” is a beautiful reminder that we’re evolving into a future where things are better, but we still appreciate the way things used to be.

Christoph Babka is Strategic Accounts Manager at Vibrant Media.

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