Some Assembly Required

Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider, or J.C.R. Licklider, has been called a “computer pioneer” for having an early vision of where computers would go long before they did. In his paper, “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” Licklider discusses the future relationships between man and technology. He explains, “Man-computer symbiosis is an expected development in cooperative interaction between men and electronic computers. It will involve very close coupling between the human and the electronic members of the partnership.” Today’s Internet radio companies, including Pandora, seem to have a degree of this “cooperative interaction” between the app and its listeners. Listeners can search for a song or artist through Pandora’s search bar, and it will create their very own stations. If a listener does not particularly enjoy a song, they have the ability to tell Pandora to play a different song through skipping or hitting “thumbs down.” Pandora even offers the option of telling it, “I’m tired of this track,” and it will discontinue to play that song for a few days/weeks. It seems almost obvious that man-computer symbiosis is present in this situation, but on closer look there exposes doubt.

Tyler Gray is co-author of the books The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel and Buy with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and The Hit Charade with Harper Collins. He has written for The New York Times, SPIN, Blender, Esquire, and currently writes for Fast Company as the Editorial Director. One of his articles at Fast Company is called, “Pandora Pulls Back the Curtain on its Magic Music Machine,” where he uncovers what’s going on behind the scenes at Pandora. He interviews Tim Westergren, founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Pandora, who explains what is called Pandora’s “Music Genome Project.” The project is being run by Pandora’s employees who hand-craft all of Pandora radio’s music channels. By listening and pairing similar songs, the project now offers an 850,000-plus song library from music broadcasted in the past century. When explaining Pandora’s success, Westergren admits, “Pandora’s secret sauce is people. Music lovers.”

How Stuff Works” is another insight on what Pandora is doing by Julia Layton. Layton is a contributing writer at HowStuffWorks company with a B.A. in English literature from Duke University, and a M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Miami. She gives her own account of the Music Genome Project by explaining, “Pandora has no concept of genre, user connections or ratings. It doesn’t care what other people who like Gomez also like. When you create a radio station on Pandora, it uses a pretty radical approach to delivering your personalized selections: Having analyzed the musical structures present in the songs you like, it plays other songs that possess similar musical traits.” The Genome consists of 400 musical attributes. Layton explains that the employees at Pandora analyze each song that lands on one of Pandora’s stations and breaks them down into various components. By identifying these factors, they can then match them to similar songs.

O’Reilly Media is a company founded by Tim O-Reilly that offers explanations and interpretations on the latest technology trends. The company prides itself on being an active member in the technology community and spreading the knowledge of innovators. O’Reilly published a lengthy article focusing on Pandora named, “Inside Pandora Web Radio.” The article explains Tim Westergren’s vision for Pandora when it began back in January of 2000. “He became fascinated with the way directors described the music they were looking for, which led to his wondering what made people enjoy certain types of music. He asked himself, ‘If people haven’t found any music that they love since college, and artists are struggling to find an audience, is there a role for technology to help bridge the gap?'” Westergren has centered the Music Genome Project on the idea of using technology to connect people with music they will enjoy in a smart and efficient way.

Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg are authors who published “Personal Dynamic Media” in the mid-1970’s about the future of notebook computing. Goldberg is a computer scientist who has developed, programmed, and researched on numerous computer-oriented projects. Kay is also a computer scientist who is best known for his pioneering work in object-oriented programming and user interface design. “Personal Dynamic Media” reveals their predictions and aspirations for a future notebook-computer called the Dynabook. Kay and Goldberg had extensive expectations for this technology, in which they explained, “There should be no discernible pause between cause and effect. One of the metaphors we used when designing such a system was that of a musical instrument, such as a flute, which is owned by its user and responds instantly and consistently to its owner’s wishes. Imagine the absurdity of a one-second delay between blowing a note and hearing it!” Pandora, however, has not yet reached Kay and Goldberg’s hopes just yet. There are times when Pandora takes a moment or two to pause or play, and listeners are not baffled by such a situation.

“Computer Lib/Dream Machines” is a mid-1970’s book that discusses computers and their frustrating inaccessibility. The author, Ted Nelson, is a pioneer of information technology, philosopher, and sociologist, and uniquely coined the terms “hypertext” and “hypermedia” in the 1960’s. “Computer Lib/Dream Machines” is a two-sided book: Computer Lib teaches about computers and practically predicted the invention of personal computers, and Dream Machines explains the coming importance of computers in the society of future generations. Nelson begins “Computer Lib” with, “Unfortunately, due to ridiculous historical circumstances, computers have been made a mystery to most of the world. And this situation does not seem to be improving. You hear more and more about computers, but to most people it’s just one big blur.” This is significant to Pandora because we can only use it on computers. We have the ability to download the Pandora app on any smartphone, laptop, or tablet, and if we do not understand these gadgets then Pandora would become inaccessible.

Part of Pandora’s website, investor.pandora.com, published an article called “Pandora Announces Technology Leadership Team Succession” discussing their new “team of technologists” and the pursuit of changes in the company. Pandora refers to their employees as technologists because, according to new Chief Technology Officer Chris Martin, they have, “developed some of the most innovative music technology in the world.” The article continues, “Pandora created the most effective way for music and technology to enhance the lives of music fans and artists alike.” It’s important to recognize that Pandora doesn’t differentiate between their employees and the technology; the way Pandora works is hardly computerized and largely controlled by humans. Pandora is technology nonetheless, so it makes sense to call their employees “technologists.”

Erin Griffith is a writer with Fortune who wrote “Bob Pittman doesn’t believe streaming will kill radio. But he’s built a massive streaming service, just in case.” Griffith was previously employed with PandoDaily writing startups, and AdWeek as a reporter. Her work has appeared in Salon, Cosmopolitan, BBC, AARP magazine, Time Out New York, Bust, The Huffington Post, Long Shot, Got a Girl Crush zine, and Brooklyn Based. This article, with an extensively long title, discusses the future of all traditional and Internet radio companies. Griffith identifies the amount of registered users on all big name Internet radio brands, including Pandora’s 250 million users, and says, “If it were not for the fact that radio is so large, you’d say, ‘Wow these are big numbers’ […] But there are one billion FM radios in the US and only 160 million smartphones and 160 million PCs, so it’s still a subset of the FM marketplace.” According to Griffith and CEO of Clear Channel Internet radio Bob Pittman, the success of Internet radio will not put traditional radio out of business anytime soon. Pandora, and the music industry in general, will not see any surprising changes in the near future.

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