The iPod Shuffle as a Database/Algorithm

The distinction between databases and algorithms in the digital world is often very defined — when we look at the music industry for example, we’re pretty much used to the first in its entirety. That wasn’t always the case.

I remember my first iPod Shuffle. The ability to listen to my music, on the go, and on my own device was an idea that mesmerized me. But I got a little greedy. I loved the iPod Shuffle, but its capabilities as a¬†database¬†were limited. I could load the songs I wanted, but those songs came up in a random order; I couldn’t listen to that “one song” unless I shuffled through the rest.

Photo courtesy of MacWorld

Fast forward almost 10 years, and we pretty much have everything we could ask for in terms of a music database. Now, for a relatively low monthly price, once can stream all the music desired from a giant online database — Spotify is an example. Again though, the power of this database seems to underwhelm after some time, and subsequently, we desire algorithms again.

We rely on the shuffle button to pick songs for us; the thing that used to be a burden is now an every day function that’s come to be desired. Not just that, but the music industry has created algorithms (like Pandora) that select new songs for us based on what we’ve listened to in the past. We no longer desire music as solely a giant collection of songs in which we have autonomy over what we hear; now, we want algorithms to make selections for us.

It’s odd to see this movement from a simple algorithm to a database and back to algorithms. Back when I had an iPod Shuffle, all I ever wanted was to choose my own song on the device; now, that’s something I take for granted.

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