Nick SeaverFeb 2, 2023
Algorithms and the Makers of Music Recommendation
University of Chicago Press 2022
The people who make music recommender systems have lofty goals: they want to broaden listeners’ horizons and help obscure musicians find audiences, taking advantage of the enormous catalogs offered by companies like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora. But for their critics, recommender systems seem to embody all the potential harms of algorithms: they flatten culture into numbers, they normalize ever-broadening data collection, and they profile their users for commercial ends. Drawing on years of ethnographic fieldwork, anthropologist Nick Seaver describes how the makers of music recommendation navigate these tensions: how product managers understand their relationship with the users they want to help and to capture; how scientists conceive of listening itself as a kind of data processing; and how engineers imagine the geography of the world of music as a space they care for and control.
Computing Taste: Algorithms and the Makers of Music Recommendation (U Chicago Press, 2022) rehumanizes the algorithmic systems that shape our world, drawing attention to the people who build and maintain them. In this vividly theorized book, Seaver brings the thinking of programmers into conversation with the discipline of anthropology, opening up the cultural world of computation in a wide-ranging exploration that travels from cosmology to calculation, myth to machine learning, and captivation to care.
Nick Seaver is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the director of the Science, Technology, and Society program at Tufts University.
Mathew Gagné is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University.