From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

February 29, 2016*: The Never-ending click

Over the past twenty years a great deal has changed in the ways we relate to the internet and the uses we make of it. Happily, however, some things have remained the same. One of these is the immense pleasure I'm able to derive from simply following a series of clicks. Some of these have no distinct starting point - I'll be reading something that either contains a link that starts a rabbit hole chain of clicks, or simply mentions something that initiates a search that after a number of clicks has led me down a totally unexpected path. It was via the latter of these, for instance, that I learned that Jeremy Steig, a jazz flutist whose recordings I'd listened to numerous times in the late sixties and early seventies, was the nephew of Margaret Mead. The obvious reaction to that information should, of course, be "so what", and frankly it's the sort of information that there's really nothing to do with except acknowledge it (and move on). But the knowing is the end-product, and I'm considerably less interested in "answers" than in enjoying the route I take getting to them. And in this particular case the extended series of I-didn't-know-thats was an adventure until itself.

As is to be expected, there are numerous other examples of this sort of thing. Sometimes it's a similar discovering of relationships, while at other times it's stumbling onto an enjoyable piece of writing. Though often a stumble results in a "hey that was nice" reaction that lasts only until something else of interest takes it place, sometimes that first stumble continues to branch out into an in depth examination of an issue. And sometimes it can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship - like discovering a columnist whom you weren't aware of but now decide to follow. Of course one person's serendipitous stumble is another's totally forgettable, passing-through click. It's a matter both of tastes and interests, and of the backgrounds and histories that we bring to our clicks, backgrounds and histories that can convert a perhaps random click into something meaningful.

Sometimes it's not just serendipitous clicking, but a distinct attempt to learn something. Which is what happened about two months ago when while driving home a piece of music started playing that caused me to scratch my head and ask "now why would they do that‽‽‽". Paul Desmond's Take Five is among the most well-known compositions in the jazz canon, and as its name suggests, it's in 5/4 time. When the piece started playing on the radio I immediately recognized it, and that it was obviously not the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet version, but that of some other group I wasn't familiar with. And then I also realized that for some strange reason it was being played in 4/4 time. Take Five is probably the quintessential 5/4 jazz standard, the piece people learn to count 5/4 to - 1-2-3, 1-2 - though that's not the only way to count 5/4 time. In 1959 when Take Five was first released non-standard time signatures were relatively rare in western popular music, though over the years they've become more common and it wouldn't surprise me if many people today don't even notice that they're hearing something "uncommon" or different. Even more than the question of who was playing this, I found myself asking why anyone would play this in 4/4. My first stop was a simple Google search - "Take Five in 4/4" - which to my surprise brought up considerably more hits than I'd expected, including a number of recordings in YouTube. At that point I preferred not to listen to these but instead to try my hand at identifying the piece via a different route. And though I didn't listen to the YouTube recordings, I did find that a number of other people had wondered, as I had, why someone would play/record a classic 5/4 piece in 4/4.

My alternative route was aided by the fact that happily (in this case not really serendipitously) only a short time before this took place Israeli state radio had launched an application that gave smartphones access to all of its radio stations, and for the playlists of each station. Somewhat problematically, however, what I'd heard on the radio wasn't part of the playlist, but the theme music for the particular program I'd been listening to. It took a bit of configuring (and two phones) to find just what I'd been listening to. On my phone I opened the radio app and found the recording of the program I'd been listening to, starting it from the opening theme music, while on Tzippi's phone I opened Shazam and had it "listen" to that opening theme. Within seconds the piece was identified.

Many Boidem columns attempt a macro approach to an issue - how the internet and digitality are changing the ways we see ourselves, the ways we run our lives. There have also been more than a handful of micro-approach columns - columns that tell a small story, report a vignette, offer an example of how those macro issues take shape in our daily lives. This column was originally envisioned as one of those micro-columns. I had an interesting, but hardly earth-shattering, story to tell, and wanted to tell it. As I continued to write, and to organize, or try to organize, what I was writing, I began to realize that at least two stories were telling themselves here. One was the story of identifying a piece of music. But that story somehow found itself taking a backseat to an issue that's no doubt among the central ongoing themes of the Boidem. Then again, it may simply be that I never met a click I couldn't find a reason to follow.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

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