The New Tech Voyeurism

I have a Confession.  I like to watch.  Everything.  I am very curious.  One of my absolute favorite things to do is simply to sit somewhere busy and “people watch”.  Or walk around on a crowded city street.  When I’m waiting for a movie or concert to start, I will spend most of the time looking around the theatre to see who else has come out to see this thing, participate in this experience.
I once went to a screening of Pasolini’s Masterpiece Salo, which is based on a novel by the Marquis DeSade, mainly so I could see who would show up to a public showing of it.
Of course I like to watch cute girls (and boys too!), but I especially relish watching all of the characters go by.  From the busy businessmen to the cuddling couples to the fucked-up frat boys, I watch how they carry themselves, how they move through space, how they interact with each other and their environments.
The crazies are a particular treat.  Especially when they’re good and removed from reality.  I will almost always listen to their stories.
I will watch and try to figure out what these random people’s stories might be.  And as the old saying goes, “God is in the details”.  How a person is dressed, what they’re reading, or drinking or carrying.  I have my own special tells though, specific things that give me the richest information.
Shoes for instance.  I can tell quite a bit about someone from their shoes.  A man in a nice suit with a pair of loafers on is not a man who likes to look good.  He is wearing the suit because he has to.  It’s his uniform.  As soon as he gets home, he will probably slip into his favorite, ragged sports team t-shirt and a pair of baggy shorts.
On the other hand, a man in a slightly ragged suit with nice shoes, is possibly not making the highest salary, but he’s going to be a much more interesting person to meet and he possibly even takes pride in his appearance!
I can also, personally, learn a lot about a person from the books that they have on their bookshelf (or the lack thereof).
But for me, the thing that tells me the most, that adds colour to the pencil sketch, is music.
Which brings me, in a kind of a roundabout way to the actual subject of this particular blog.
I am sitting right now in the Haymarket Café, a little place in Northampton Massachusetts of which I am inordinately fond.  I have a pot of lemon ginger tea and a nice spot by the front counter, where I can see all of the coming and going, ebb and flowing of the people around me.
I also have my trusty, slightly ghetto-ized Mac PowerBook.  Sylvia.
She’s a few years old, and a little cranky.  She won’t turn on unless she’s plugged in and has a USB keyboard because her built-in one no longer works.  She also has a USB track-ball mouse plugged in because I do a lot of work with music and video editing and I hate the trackpad for that stuff.  But she still does what I need, mostly, and I am very fond of her.
All of this makes for an unusual setup, with wires and peripherals everywhere.
But still, I digress.  I merely paint the picture of this moment.  A six foot four, drop dead sexy transwoman with an uber-nerd setup in a crowded, socialist coffeeshop.
What I have discovered, that I wish to share with you, is that a new (at least to me) feature on iTunes allows me to listen to and browse the music libraries of any Mac users sitting nearby.
For me, this is the holy grail of people “watching”.
As I write this I have been switching back and forth between various music libraries, scanning through the artists and hitting shuffle.  One person is heavy on hip hop, another pretty folky.  There’s someone who really like local music.  And someone who favors Ani DiFranco and NPR.
I found out that Lady Sovereign has a new album that I had not yet heard about.
It’s interesting to try and figure out who these people might be.  A Smithie, a townie, a bored suburbanite or a political activist?
I wonder if they even realize I am listening?
All I really know are the names of the playlists.  “Jane Smith’s Library”, “Chouzou”, “Lindy’s Music”, “Guerre de Fleur”.  Even those details help to tell the story though.  Are they whimsical or straightforward?  Angry, with a lot of NWA and Rage Against The Machine?  Or a little sappy with a music library heavy on the Abba and light on the Metallica.
There are mix CDs, where the tracks were never named, just the album.  “Judy’s Random Retro Mix” and “Some Love Songs For Lucy”.  Or just “Jason’s Disc”.
While I was writing those last few lines, the library I was listening to went from Sade to the Pogues to something simply called “track 8”.
I keep looking around to see if I can match up playlists to faces.  I am convinced, because I can hear their music, that they can somehow read these words.  That they are looking at me because they know!
I tend to forget that I stand out in a crowd sometimes simply for being who I am.
I suppose they just might read these words though.  It is a public blog.  Anyone can click through.  Maybe it was your music I was listening to.
I have been sitting here for several hours and I have barely spoken a word to anyone around me.  Even though they are very close.  It is you that I have been talking to, while I have been listening to their music.
And even now, when I was about to wrap up, hit Save, take off the headphones and close iTunes, I am informed via a helpful window, “One or more users are connected to your shared iTunes library, are you sure you want to quit?”
Of course not.  It is somehow gratifying to find that they are watching me!
Far be it for me to turn off the feed.
Now I want to scroll through my own music library and wonder, who I may appear to be?
It’s a brand new voyeurism for a brand new era.  This is “Radio Around You”.


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