I had only recently updated to iOS 15 when my phone started showing “now playing” media, which it normally does. The only issue: it wasn’t media I was playing.
My phone indicated that it was playing Ivy by Frank Ocean. No hate to Frank Ocean but that’s a far cry from my usual playlist of 90s pop hits (Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears) and early aughts Pakistani rock (please check out Noori and Junoon).
Now, this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened since the update. However, up till now, I had simply ignored it thinking it was an oversight on my part. Maybe I forgot to turn off my Spotify and it somehow ended up on music I wouldn’t normally play. It says it’s connected to schlafzimmer, and I don’t speak a lick of german but hey, maybe that’s just a tiny error. Maybe I read it wrong.
The fact that I gaslit myself instead of questioning Apple really speaks to the trust we have in the tech giant’s capabilities in not making such errors.
However, this time I simply couldn’t ignore it.
So what exactly was going on? I turned to my apartment building’s group chat to get some answers.
Turns out, my neighbor, amidst what I thought was a heartbreak (or as my friend put it “she hurt HURT”), was listening to Mr. Ocean (see how quickly we made that judgement? Keep reading).
I tried to remember if, at any point, we had connected our devices.
Nope. Though we had definitely, accidentally, ‘tried’.
Tiny apartment building and unoriginality on our parts of calling our home systems “Living Room”, she often sent linking requests to my Apple TV; requests that I promptly denied.
Requests that were chalked up to user error. Requests that up till now were just a nuisance especially when I was gaming and my TV would switch over to Apple TV, thwarting my escape attempts from the Underworld.
This particular issue was more than a mere nuisance.
It made me think, or rather, worry: can my neighbors also see what I am listening to?
There’s a reason “guilty pleasure” music (or series, movies, books, etc.) is a genre of its own; with Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen leading the charts (and rightfully so; that song is a bop).
Of course, guilty pleasures have less to say about the quality of the media but more about our value judgements and, as a result, the identities we form and curate through our associations with them.
As Washburn and Derno write in Bad Music: The Music We Love to Hate,
What on the surface may appear to be miniscule gestures of random alliances…turn out to have a vitally important impact on our own sense of identity as well as on how we chose to present ourselves to the world.
What we end up listening to in the privacy of our homes, bopping along to on the bus, singing in the shower, gives us a break from the performative aspect of music listening and allows us to enjoy music for music’s sake.
Never has this been more important than in the age of social media where almost everything we do prompts a request to be shared.
Tell the world I’m listening to the Shrek 2 soundtrack? That’s a pass from me, Spotify. I’m already dreading the 2021 Wrapped. Getting randomly approached by TikToker Christian Ortega asking me what song I’m listening to is my worst nightmare.
Not everything is meant to be shared, especially in the current day and age of identity curation or what Bauman (2007) calls subjectivity fetishism (article on the topic following soon).
Apple’s error here isn’t simply a connectivity issue but rather speaks to questions of privacy, performativity and identity. And now I’m conscious of listening to Bollywood bops in my own home!
Interested in questions of performativity in the age of social media?
Give Bo Burnham’s special Inside a watch (available on Netflix).