Get Outside Your Box

Pandora is a free Internet “radio station” customized for the individual listener. It bills itself as a “new kind of radio station that plays only the music you like.”

The way the Web site works is that you enter a song or artist and the site will start playing music – song after song — by that artist and similar music. No more listening to what you don’t like to hear.

Back in the day, when my musical tastes were developing as quickly as my adolescent body, we would listen to Cousin Brucie on 77-WABC using a transistor radio that one of the guys brought to the parking lot where we used to play Wiffle-ball. We listened to the weekly “Top Ten” and had robust debates about what was a good song and what wasn’t.

Once I started earning a few bucks after school – a very few – I was able to buy my first stereo album. Earning $2 an hour, an album cost one to two hours of work, so it was a big decision, one I remember clearly. Thinking about it now, I find irony in the title of my first album, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Déjà Vu”.

I chose that album because it had two songs on it I liked a lot. But that album had eight other songs. I was indifferent to some of them, and detested others. But I bought the album and listened – over and over – to all ten album cuts. Eventually, I grew to like almost all the songs on Déjà Vu. By being exposed to different music, I broaden my taste in music.

Today, that wouldn’t happen. With music, now you can go to iTunes and download music a la carte — just the music you like. Then you can build a playlist of your songs. As with Pandora, no more listening to what you don’t like to hear.

And isn’t that also the case with modern political discourse? Why listen to what you don’t like to hear? We conservatives have, for example, Fox News Channel, the New York Post, Rush Limbaugh, and Michelle Malkin’s Hot Air blog for news we like to hear, and liberals have the anti-matter counterparts: MSNBC, The New York Times, Alan Colmes and the Daily Kos, for some of the news content they want.

No more listening to what you don’t like to hear, or reading what you don’t like to read. Follow only those you like on Twitter. Watch what you like on YouTube. “Friend” compatriots on Facebook. Only like-minded need apply. Customized content seems, at times, to be making us insular and polarized, parochial and provincial.

No more robust debates. No more exposure to different “political music.” Are we becoming a nation of “Johnny One-Notes” — or maybe it’s two notes; just two discordant notes which seem like they will never harmonize.

A technological Pandora’s box has been open and has profoundly changed the world in ways we are just beginning to understand.

We can choose not to succumb – to push beyond our political comfort zone. So this week, click over to Fox and watch Greta Van Susteren during a commercial break in Keith Oberman’s “Countdown.” Flip through the Huffington Post after you’ve digested The New York Post.

It won’t change your mind – but it might help you understand what is going on in the minds of those on the other side of the spectrum. And then maybe the American song won’t seem as out of key.

Frank Trotta blogs at