Sure, music companies like Pandora, Spotify, and Soundcloud have long used algorithms in an attempt to match music to your tastes, but the soon-to-be-released Prizm is taking that technology to a whole new level. We're not just talking about playlists, here: this thing reads the mood of a room, factors in the time of day, and detects patterns in your listening habits.
The Kickstarter-backed "music brain" recently shipped to beta testers and backers—before going into wider distribution—which got Sweet editors thinking, is this level of technological intuition actually kind of creepy?
The Technological Rundown
Prizm connects directly to your streaming accounts to scan your vast library of songs and song likes, in order to queue up a playlist designed specifically for you. (Early models track Soundcloud and Deezer, but Spotify and other services will also be compatible before mass distribution.) Listeners also have the choice to add additional input, too. Like and dislike buttons on the side will allow you to manually control Prizm's choices, just in case you really loved or hated a particular song choice.
OK, that all seems pretty straightforward and cool, right? Well, wait for it. Prizm also notes whether you like, say, upbeat or downtempo music at certain times of the day. It also knows what day of the week it is: the music choices on a Friday night will be a little rowdier than on a Monday. All right, that's still sort of thoughtful.
But then it gets weird. The embedded acoustic sensor can note if you're having a quiet night at home, or if you're having friends over for a party. And if you do have people over, guests can enable Prizm to automatically scan their musical info to play the perfect party soundtrack that everyone in the room wants to hear. Now we're feeling torn. So...
Is Prizm Cool or Creepy?
Rebecca Deczynski, editorial assistant, @rebeccadecz
Cool: I've always wanted to walk into a room and gaze gloomily before me as the opening notes of Nico's "These Days" begins to play, transforming me into a modern-day Margot Tenenbaum. And with Prizm, that's totally possible. All I want in life is a gadget that understands my affinity for wistful '60s pop—now, I finally have it.
Chantal Strasburger, assistant editor, @chantagold
Creepy: As much as I'd like to think of my musical taste as advanced and refined (hey, working at Sweet keeps me on top of my stuff), I still have moments when I need to dance around to '90s boy bands, or belt out an entire broadway musical soundtrack. Do I need the cool host of the party I'm at knowing that I indulge in the occasional One Direction throwback? No, I do not.
Rebecca Bates, senior editor, @re.beccabates
Cool: But, Chantal, why do you care if anyone knows if you indulge in One Direction or '90s boy bands? Listen to what you like with enthusiasm, and if anyone judges you, they're not really your friend, or something. To the point, I like the honesty of Prizm. Right now, government agencies have access to pretty much everything about us, and this access is the topic of a critical piece of cultural dialogue. Who has the right to know what about whom, and when? At least Prizm comes right out and says, "I can look at your music history, I see that Feist remix you've listened to 52 times this month, and I'm going to let the world know." Transparency about forced transparency is important.
Martin Sanchez, associate editor, @thet_t
Creepy: Where's everyone's sense of discovery?! I'm all for making things easy and streamlined, but don't forget the best part of finding a new song or artist can sometimes be the road that led you there. And, while the listener still has a level of control over Prizm, I would hate to be boxed into certain genres or listening patterns. What if Monday night rolls around and I want to act like it's the weekend? Can I live?
Chanel Parks, assistant editor, @chanelinezp
Both: My musical tastes are all over the place, so I'm personally interested in knowing my listening trends, like if I happen to listen to diva pop ballads more often on Saturday nights when I'm feeling lonely. But I do think it's weird that it can pick up the vibes of everyone in the room, because if I'm at a party on a Saturday night, I don't want to be a killjoy by having Mariah Carey's "Hero" blast on the speakers right after Rae Sremmurd's "Black Beatles."
Catherine Fuentes, managing editor, @cat_fuentes
Cool: I have been responsible for creating many playlists, first as a social chair in my college sorority, and then as a real adult working as a music writer (my friends automatically trusted my picks). But each time I try to create a new playlist, I get anxiety. What will people want to listen to at that moment? Will they judge my taste? Prizm takes away that guesswork by creating a playlist based on everyone's favorite tracks—and guiltiest pleasures. And there's no better party than one where every guest is loving all of the music.
Want to get your hands on Prizm? See meetprizm.com for release updates.