How Tech Stole Your Identity From Music
by Alex Cosper, Saturday, August 19, 2017

Last century everyone had an identity that was generally based on their tastes in pop culture, which mainly comprised music, movies, television, books and magazines. Even if you somehow couldn't get into any type of music then, chances are you were hooked into one of the other pop culture pastimes. For some people their identity was shaped by religion or philosophy, but most of society played follow the leader with trends established by Big Media.

Now in the 21st century we live in a much more digital world, in which everyone's identity relates to computer technology in some way. About a quarter of the people on the planet have a Facebook account, which has replaced email for many individuals as a primary form of communication. The most robotic social media addicts now communicate with tools, such as the "like" button. President Trump's identity is closely tied to Twitter. Many celebrities and businesses use social media to promote their brands.

What exactly happened? Actually, the tech biz caught the music biz by surprise. Last century every band on the planet wanted to be signed by one of the major labels. This century musicians don't think as much about the labels, which have been exposed as greedy and don't always treat artists like family. Some top level music executives don't even see themselves as sellers of art. They view themselves more as sellers of lifestyle trends that intertwine with other industries.

Basically, we were all once pop culture junkies, fascinated by the entertainment content provided by Big Biz mixed with hundreds of smaller companies. We imagined that these artists represented our values because we connected with their lyrics. While many of these artists may have been sincere, society did not even think of them as business people. The music world was like a playground for the imagination, just like Hollywood, except without video, until music videos erased much of that imaginative dynamic.

In the 1990s the tech biz snatched the pop culture throne from the music world, just as it was celebrating its most profitable years. They did it because the internet became new media. At first it was called "The Wild West" and seemed like access to the underground with so much unchartered territory to explore. It was exciting, because just like punk rock, anyone was allowed to participate. It gave us more control over our choices, instead of listening to hours of music on the radio waiting for a particular song. It brought us into a world of customized media. Eventually, however, it became clear that we were roped into a corporate sandbox.

The music biz wasn't prepared for this new revolution and probably still won't admit it's no longer the gatekeeper of pop culture. Now that honor goes to YouTube personalities, bloggers, platform builders and apps developers. If your identity isn't tied to a particular device, it may be a collection of websites. Once we were all sucked into the online community we started to become aware that Google keeps track of everywhere we go online and that government, not the Wild West, was the creator of this new medium.

So even if you refuse to believe that your identity has nothing to do with technology, the government thinks differently. Technology is how they know you better than when you wore T-shirts of your favorite bands. Now they know a lot about all of us and can research anyone they want in their vast databases or just try places like Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, eBay or Amazon.

At one time we were all just faces in the crowd at a cool rock concert. Now many of us are much more identifiable to strangers we've never met. Despite lack of regulation in the past, there will likely come a day when internet faces increased restrictions due to the threats of cybercrime and the exposure of fake news across the internet. In the sixties the masses pretty much were exposed to the same music and TV shows, but from the 2000s on we've had the luxury of choosing our own - even inventing our own - media.

In the seventies the price of an album or concert tickets was about five dollars. These days our pop culture identities cost hundreds of dollars in the form of desktop computers or mobile devices, plus internet and software expenses. How were people able or willing to switch to this more expensive form of pop culture? The promise that once you are equipped with these devices, you would have access to endless free or low cost content.

That's kind of what they really mean when they say "content is king." They didn't mean that creating content would make you rich. They mean that your choice of content that you consume or create makes you feel like you rule your own empire. Another way to look at it is, last century identity theft meant someone found your wallet somewhere ... this century identity theft means someone found out your password using cheap software, without ever coming near you physically.

© Alex Cosper. All rights reserved. See privacy notice.