Is David Egger’s Totalitarian Nightmare of a Music Industry Already Realized?

What if Google monopolized everything, including the music industry? That is the basic idea of Egger’s The Circle. This fictionalized amalgam of Google, Facebook, and Twitter has managed to force all online information to travel through its filters and gates, laying out a dystopian path towards fascist implosion.  Racing to keep up with current headlines, Mr. Egger’s most recent offering is not mind blowing by any means but a worthwhile read nevertheless (full literary review); however the focus of this post is to look at the projected role of the music industry within this questionably fictional landscape.

The creators of the Circle have implemented “a unified operating system, which combined all users’ needs and tools into one TruYou account — e-mail, social networking, banking, and purchasing. TruYou changed the Internet, in toto, within a year,” writes Eggers.  The cautionary tale keys in on how our “likes”, “thumbs up”, “and retweets” may eventually be commodified, and at that point all creative content is helpless to any monopolizing distribution outlet. The following passage highlights the algorithm based system already circulating today. It seems silly to fight against a tool that brings you music your friends like, but something dangerous and ineffective is waiting when the Circle stretches into all aspects of your tastes and curatorial relationships. Since the Circle campus sets all trends for online users, the power of ranking systems is all powerful.

Oh, and over here’s your playlist. If you listen to music while you work, the feed automatically sends that playlist out to everyone else, and it goes into the collective playlist, which ranks the most-played songs in any given day, week, month. It has the top one hundred songs campus wide, but you can also slice it a thousand ways—top-played hip-hop, indie, country, anything. You’ll get recommendations based on what you play, and what others with similar taste play—it’s all cross-pollinating while you’re working.

Sounds like Spotify or  Seems harmless, but ask yourself if it really helps you find deep connections with new music, or does it just keep you addicted to finding more and the next artist? Can a database this large be trusted? Some of the industries biggest figures don’t believe so. 

Like we have railed against in Monofesto’s own manifesto, once the efficiency of calculating the stats wins out over authentic connections, the artist is stripped completely of his or her power, cast into poverty or groveling slavery to that which controls the distribution.  At that point all of the promise of the freedom of the internet will be lost.  Cheery stuff, right?

The most striking example of the book’s truly damned future for performance artists is the appearances of even past megastars playing the cafeteria of the Circle in a last ditch effort to get enough “likes” by these influential gatekeepers.  Mae, Egger’s young protagonist, is required to…

highlight the new musicians’ residences on campus—twenty-two fully equipped apartments where musicians, especially those who couldn’t count on making a living through sales of their music, could live for free and play regularly for the Circlers.

As long as there are enough people living outside the virtual realm, I don’t think the situation can ever get this bad. Let’s just hope people continue to spend enough time off a screen to get to a stage.

Quotations courtesy of Dave Eggers – The Circle – Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group