There used to a be small record shop in my home town called Zhivago Records. It’s owner, Pat Pyne, stocked most of the stuff in the music charts, some ‘The Cure’ and ‘Led Zepellin’ T shirts, blank audio cassettes, and a ‘local interest’ section comprising (largely dodgy) Irish music for tourists. Although I sometimes found the limited selection of music available frustrating, choosing was easy and it largely satisfied my musical tastes at the time. Zhivago went out of business 2 years ago.
My first visit to Tower Records in London’s Picadilly Circus in the 80’s, opened my mind to a new world of musical posibilities that I didn’t even know existed. The 25,000 sq ft shop in Picadilly Circus housed what seemed to be an infinite collection of music and catered to every imaginable taste.
Although the having so much more music to choose from was exhilarating, I confess that I also found the the experience made me anxious (that I might miss THAT one special album or make a choice that was deeply unfashionable), frustrated (not knowing where to start looking or forget what it was I came into buy in the first place) and even a little hostile towards the knowledgeable (but sometimes patronising) shop assistants working within the genre subsections of the shop.
What should have been the ultimate shopping experience sometimes ended in my leaving rather overwhelmed and disappointed by the experience and feeling guilty that I didn’t make a purchase at all.
Despite years of growth and expansion, Tower records is now gone too. Like everyone else these days I buy all of my music online. Tower record’s once impressive calatogue is now dwarfed by what’s available from iTunes’ 20 million plus online song library.
What makes this iTunes so successful is not just the wide choice of music available, but the incredible sophistication of the filtering system that helps me choose what I want to buy. Using my previous purchase history, iTunes has worked out my musical tastes and from that presents similar kinds of music to me. When I choose a track for download, I get to see what other people who have purchased this music have also bought, exposing me to new music and thereby broadening my own musical tastes. It seems to know what I want, even before I realise it myself.
This week, I’m ‘shopping’ at EULAR in Berlin, one of the Megastore medical meetings for my specialty, for information. Information that I hope will improve the lives of my patients and my working day. Like the 15,000 other delegates who’ve travelled distances and who have taken time off work to attend, I will be presented with an impressive choice of hundreds of presentations and over 3000 cutting edge scientific abstracts to choose from.
The curators of the meeting have gone to some trouble to divide up the meeting in to specific disease ‘genres’ sections, have put together a number of ‘Whats Hot’ plenary sessions, summary sessions and even a searchable app.
And yet, I’m beginning to get a familiar feeling…
Lets just hope that I bring home something that I like.