Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

The tyranny of the iTunes play counter.

Everything was great in the olden days. You would go down to the local record shop — called something like POPalong Cassidy’s — purchase a great big LP, take it home and savour the sounds while flicking through the lovely …

Sun, Oct 7, 2012, 20:24

   

Everything was great in the olden days. You would go down to the local record shop — called something like POPalong Cassidy’s — purchase a great big LP, take it home and savour the sounds while flicking through the lovely gatefold sleeve. When you were a teenager, such afternoons came relatively rarely and the cherished record was played repeatedly for at least a week. Only when you had memorised every note would you place the album in the wire-frame record holder and move on to something else.

Time moved on and, as you got a bit more money, you found yourself buying several albums a week. Life intervened. You got distracted before finishing the second side. Records that didn’t immediately connect sometimes became a little overlooked. That Einstürzende Neubauten album ended up gathering so much dust you could barely read the cover. Something similar happens with books. Stick that copy of Infinite Jest in a distant corner so that nobody will notice the spine is uncracked.

Still, at least there wasn’t some electronic minder around to point out how you were neglecting your purchases. The iTunes play count facility really is a menace. Obviously, I could remove it from the screen. But that would be to acknowledge my inadequacy. It seems only right that, whenever I listen to a tune, I am reminded how infrequently I have got through that avant garde classical thing or that beardy folk rock atrocity. Worse still, one is occasionally made aware of the tracks that one has never played at all. “You paid good money for that and you never touch it,” an imaginary older relative tells me. “What a waste. It wouldn’t have happened during the war, you know.” Guilt mounts. Every now and then I let the thing play quietly to itself so that it can robotically clock up plays of neglected tracks.

This is rather as if, each time you picked up a novel, some electronic voice shouted at you: “You haven’t finished Portrait of a Lady. What’s with all this D H Lawrence you’ve bought and not touched? You’re going to die without reading those. You’re fooling nobody by having Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa on the shelf. There’s barely a crease on the thing.”

A glance at the “most played” list brings even more disturbing news. Am I really this easily pleased? Look at this undemanding pap. And then there’s the genuinely puzzling stuff. There’s at least one song here I couldn’t sing if you brandished a shotgun in my direction. Oh yeah. It turns up immediately after that song I always play when alcoholically medicated. That makes sense.

Blast iTunes. Could you not just leave us alone to make our own mistakes. We never asked for this.