Those who have taken an intro to psych course will have to have heard of the tale of the rat in the box — the one with electrodes jammed into his brain in the part called the “pleasure center,” hooked to a switch he could push. He liked pushing the lever so much that he never ate food or drank water — just sat by the lever, and tapped at it, over and over.
Till he died.
I’m not quite a Luddite. I’m not one who feels that he needs tons of gadgets around at all times, but I don’t think I’m scared of technology, either. I mean, I do have a blog on this newfangled Internet thing. But I think I’d be lying if I said I was never part-wary of any new means of dispersal for new information.
What I’m trying to say is: Pandora has murdered my brain.
That’s all I’m really trying to say.
And to clarify that, I guess that I’d better back up and explain to my readers my long and uncomfortable history with music. In brief, I love albums. Or loved them — past tense. At one point my CDs were stacked by the hundreds, and I’d wear them all out from track one to track 12. A good one was not a collection of songs but a work to be studied (cohesive and whole). I’d leave one in my player for weeks at a time, exploring its dark, twisted corners till it gave up its secrets.
And then I discovered Pandora.
I’m not (quite) ashamed to admit that the first time I heard of Pandora, it scared me (a little, at least). There was something obscene (something not-at-all-right) about servile computers bringing infinite streams of whatever sub-sub-genre music you asked for, a feed customized to the ears of the listener, down to the note. Something easy and lazy and even myopic.
Why yield to the artist if you can make him yield to you?
The soul of Pandora is pure gut reaction: thumbs-up or thumbs-down, within minutes of starting each song. If played by those rules, the game favors songs with a lot on surface and nothing beneath. Songs that tickle the ears but don’t reach to the soul. Not a banquet of food, but a ranch dressing hose.
I made challenging stations.
A classical station with Bach and Stravinsky. A ’50s jazz station with Ellington, Brubeck. But each time I logged in, I sighed and skipped over them, bowing before the Dark Goddess of Pop, the one they all call Instant Gratification. The one who would play me tween-targeted dreck (Lovato and Gomez), and I was embarrassed, but it tickled my ears.
I was the rat, trapped in the glass box, and tapping the thumbs-up switch (“shock pleasure center”), just begging for jolt after jolt of the sugar-pop bubblegum. Lazy and starving and too unconcerned about anything else to admit it.
I looked in the glass at my eyes, bloody-red and round (bulbous), punctuated by whiskers and razor-sharp teeth, grinding together in four-on-the-floor while my soft, folded ears twitched in time to the shrill siren vocals.
And I lay on the floor while I starved in my filth, till I woke from the dream.
And I realized at last it was me, in my flesh (my pale, human skin), on the couch while the new Adam Sandler film played out on Netflix.
Despite all your rage, I am still going to ask you to read more of my stuff: