Philosophy in Focus: All wrapped up

Philosophy in Focus Graphic

In another attempt to avoid focusing on political news that is usually stressful, confusing or frightening, I have instead been thinking about our fascination with Spotify Wrapped and music as a form of social media. 

In “A Theory of Justice” (1971), John Rawls discusses societal progress through collective creativity and labor. Rawls is correct that we gain strength and innovation by participating in the collective, but I would rather think of this idea as relevant to our lives and relationships on a smaller scale. 

In case you missed it, Spotify 2020 Wrapped was released last week, presenting users with data on what music and podcasts they listened to and how much they listened since January 2020. The annual feature is widely anticipated and discussed on other social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. 

For me, it was the perfect way to look back at this year as a whole without getting bogged down in all the things that have not gone the way we wanted. Instead, I was reminded of the songs I found on my friends’ playlists back in March and couldn’t stop listening to for a week, and of the new artists I found that helped me make sense of a mystifying year. A few years ago, I never listened to Taylor Swift but my best friend always did; ironically, Taylor Swift was my top artist this year and wrote my two most-played songs. 

It’s not groundbreaking to describe our music choices as a deeply personal reflection of who we are and what we’re going through, whether we’re making music, listening to it or both. It comes as no surprise, then, that the ability to share it with others is met with such enthusiasm.

Rawls wrote that “It is a feature of human sociability that we are by ourselves but parts of what we might be.” If it weren’t for my best friend, I might never have given those songs a chance. Now they’re some of my favorites, and there were multiple times this semester when I started talking to someone new because they noticed my “folklore” (2020) sweatshirt.

In a year as difficult as this one, in which many of us felt more isolated than ever before, music was a way to connect to the rest of the world and to the people we love. There’s a song for every situation and an artist who can sing what you’re feeling, even if you don’t quite understand it yourself.

We are in constant search of ways to connect with other people, especially in today’s context. This month, by sharing the songs and artists that defined our 2020, music gave us a way to say, “This is how I view the world, and I want you to know about it.” I hope it can be a reminder for all of us that we were never going through this year on our own; as Rawls put it, we are almost always better off when we are connected to each other.