Break Out the Tinfoil Hats

More people are leaning on their technological gadgets and gizmos to help them schedule their lives. Google calendar alerts can keep people on task; the new Apple Watch provides a gentle reminder when the wearer has been sedentary for too long; FitBit tracks activity and food intake to help determine calories in and out. These are tremendous tools never before available to humanity, and as obesity grows as a health care problem and cost, the more tools we as a society have at our disposal, the better.

But when Spotify announced, via Periscope, on Wednesday morning that it was introducing a new capability to match the pace of a user’s jogging tempo with a song, it might’ve provoked some paranoia among music fans and technology users.

As explained by Digital Music News: “Chief Product Officer, Gustav Söderström, explained that smart phones already have sensors that capture this information and Spotify is able to read it, interpret it to beats per minute (BPM) and find a song that matches your run tempo, ‘in about 5 seconds.’”

Not only that, but Spotify is working with musicians to develop music that will change to fit a jogger’s pace. “We’re not trying to slip BPM stretching past you,” he said. Things will “magically rearrange” to fit the runner’s pace, so every run will be different.

Writing for Digital Music News, Ari Herstand says that while it might be easier for electronic artists to write songs that can speed up or slow down based on a runner’s pace, “I don’t see this catching on.”

So… Spotify can monitor your heartbeat and jogging pace, huh? Will Google Maps then suggest a more difficult or rigorous, hilly route to ensure a more vigorous workout? What if a wearer isn’t putting in a full effort on a given day – will Spotify’s new beat-matching capability try to push for a tougher run, a faster pace, a longer course? Will the Apple Watch find a way to guilt a wearer into taking that extra class at the gym in a given week?

Forgive me, but the conspiracy theorist is taking over: Here in the United States, we got all bunchy a few years back when we found out, thanks to Edward Snowden, that the National Security Agency was listening in on phone calls and reading emails regardless of whether that kind of snooping was warranted. There was outrage! Letter-writing campaigns! Cries for congressional review of the NSA! How dare the government read our personal exchanges with friends, family and loved ones across the country or around the world without a solid, verifiable reason! Privacy is sacred and should be protected, and how dare the government intrude on that!

But Spotify announces it’s capable of noticing and monitoring our jogging pace and heart rate, and can match music to keep things moving along at the same rate. And this is totally cool, right? There’s nothing creepy or weird or invasive about it?

By the way, a friend of mine pointed out that a Washington, DC-based band, BlueBrain, released an album on iTunes a few years back that was designed to use GPS signals to personalize a trip around the National Mall, home to the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial and Smithsonian Castle, among other landmarks.

As the Washington Post wrote upon the album/app’s release in 2011, this might have been the world’s first “location-aware album— an app designed for smartphones that uses Global Positioning System technology to trigger different swaths of electro-pop based on physical location. Titled ‘The National Mall,’ the app-album can be heard only in Washington by iPhone-toting listeners strolling around the monuments and museums.”

Calling it “magical,” the Post writer suggested “Sgt. Pepper is smiling,” as the brothers behind Bluebrain, Hays and Ryan Holladay  were “helping to redefine what an album can actually be.”

The brothers took care to note, on their website, that each location along the Mall had been “carefully considered” when the album was written, but “because each listener will explore the Mall in a different way and at a different pace, experiences with the album will be unique in sequencing and arrangement…. For instance, a listener may choose not to visit the Sculpture Garden and his or her experience with the album might not include those musical sections. But they are as permanent as a song on an LP. What you hear standing twenty feet south of and staring up the Washington Monument will be there when you return to it one year or ten years later. The landscape is simply the way to discover and interact with the music that’s been composed and carefully placed throughout.”

So Spotify can match your heart rate, and this album can play different songs based on your location, but what the NSA did was a crime against society at large and reprehensible and an invasion of privacy. Got it.

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