And that was just it: Instead of the internet working against our real lives in provocative ways, it became an extension of them. The looking glass was now a mirror; instead of reinventing us, the web simply provided more of us to the world, and more ways to take advantage of the world around us. We speak of Yelping and checking in on 4Square as if these were activities, when they are simply the day-to-day cataloguing of our lives—or, even worse, a grimly detached version of modern life in which we aspire to be ourselves. Mediation presents itself as a friendly tool when in fact it creates distance between us and the ordinary.
Here’s the way music recommendations, whether algorithmic or human, usually work: “If you like [well-known artist] you might also like [lesser-known artist].” I’m a total jerk, though, so here’s how they work sometimes for me: “If you like [lesser-known, maybe even obscure, artist”] you will also like [thing you have heard many times before by famous artist likely responsible for the other thing sounding like it does]. Or, to put it another way: Today, Bill Withers’s “Lovely Day” came on. I thought to myself, “Hey, this is kind of sweet. It sounds a lot like Clifford Coulter’s The Better Part of Me”. The Better of Part Me might be my favorite modern soul-ish record. It’s from 1980, and produced by Bill Withers. “Lovely Day” is 1977. I know it backward and forward, and for a while thought I was sick of it. Then I realized how much it owes to this later, lesser Withers production, and the sky opened up before me.