Chivalry is Dead

I don’t like receiving gifts. I never have. It’s awkward, and unfortunately I’m not the kind of person who can fake a reaction. But one gift I’ve always wanted, and something I can’t give myself, is a mixtape. I vividly recall the moment I decided this was the only gift I’d ever want. I was nine years old, watching the very first Bring It On with bright eyes as Torrance jumped up and down on her bed to the mixtape Cliff made for her. I want that, I thought. Between the sheer thoughtfulness of the gift, attention to detail when choosing songs, and the time dedicated to putting something like that together, I was sure there was no better gift in the world.

Now I’m a playlist fanatic. I have 130+ playlists, each dedicated to a specific person, place, or era in my life. And all are accompanied by a photo and written description. I make playlists as an ode to my younger self. But I can’t help but think there’s a little girl out there yearning for a mixtape, just like I did. And that begs the question: Are playlists the modern day equivalent of those mixtapes we gave to our loved ones?

The Novelty is in the Process

As someone who (unfortunately) didn’t grow up in the 90s, I didn’t find music by spending my Saturdays at record stores. I found music through family members first, then YouTube, then an app called 8 Tracks. And when I was old enough, I went to random concerts with tickets that were about seven dollars. And even then, we were past the age of putting together a mixtape for someone.

Once I got Spotify and began creating playlists, I discovered that I can be as creative as I want. Playlists are art in and of themselves, selecting songs, the title, descriptions, the photo, and the order. But when creating a playlist for someone else, there’s inevitably less time and care put into it. I’ve only had one playlist made for me. And while I still listen to it, I imagine that how it makes me feel probably pales in comparison to receiving a cassette of songs.

As great as it is, Spotify and Apple Music constantly feed its listeners targeted playlists, and a lot of people depend on TikTok for new music. There’s no issue with this, but perhaps people now lack the discernment to create meaning for themselves through the music they listen to. For example, a snippet of “Too Sweet” by Hozier was released before his most recent EP dropped. Almost instantly, people were deciphering the lyrics and hopping on the bandwagon when they hadn’t heard the full song. But, say the song played on the car radio while a person’s on the way to work and they briefly recall a past romance. And the lyrics happened to match their feelings and amplify their memories, that lends authentic, self-defined meaning to the song. The beauty of music resides in the soundtrack that’s built around life as we live it.

@emma_withadilemma in this essay i will- #hozier #hoziertok #toosweet #fyp ♬ Too Sweet - Hozier

The Impending Digital Dark Age

I’ve always had a general interest in things of the past; I’ve had a vinyl collection since I was 13; I still collect DVDs and VHS tapes; and I shoot with a film camera (although this is normal these days). But even though I have a reverence for these old ways of doing things, I don’t print my photos or create mixtapes for a loved one.

There's been much discourse on TikTok about the digital dark age, something I’ve never thought much about. My vinyls, DVDs, and VHS tapes are part of who I am, not an effort to differentiate myself from the general population. But it’s come to Gen-Z’s attention that we won’t be able to show our lives to our kids as our parents did if we don’t make some changes.

@daisybow_craft #stitch with @carlyincontro ♬ original sound - Daisy Bow Craft & Cyanotype

Growing up, I had photo albums upon photo albums of my parents’ lives to sift through, coffee-stained Polaroid pictures of their friends they no longer remembered the names of, and odes to friendship in yearbooks from 1986. And what are we supposed to do? Show our kids a screenshot of a Spotify playlist that we saved in the cloud. Apparently, we won’t even be able to do that.

“We may know less about the early 21st century than we do about the early 20th century. The early 20th century is still largely based on things like paper and film formats that are still accessible to a large extent, whereas much of what we’re doing now — the things we’re putting into the cloud, our digital content — is born digital. It’s not something that we translated from an analog container into a digital container, but, in fact, it is born, and now increasingly dies, as digital content, without any kind of analog counterpart.” Rick West, Data Manager at Google.

A book is a book and will always be a book. But even if I upload my photos or playlists to an external hard drive, we’re moving so fast into the future, it seems that soon we won’t have the necessary tools to read them. By the time my kids ask about who I am right now, they’ll be essentially obsolete. We’re barely able to keep up with Apple’s incessant changes to laptops and charger cables. Soon, SD cards will be antiquated and we’ll rely on Bluetooth transfers from camera to device.

The AI Bot and his Vendetta

The digital dark age and AI go hand-in-hand, in my opinion. I’m convinced that the AI bot has something against art as well as the time it takes to create the glorious mayhem. Before sitting down to write this, I opened up Chat GPT and typed: “Make me a playlist that I can send to my crush, capturing the feeling of seeing him for the first time.”

The first response: “Creating a playlist to capture the feeling of seeing your crush for the first time involves selecting songs that convey excitement, butterflies, and a sense of wonder.”

Then, I was given a playlist with songs like Crush by Tessa Violet, Somewhere Only We Know by Keane, and Adore You by Harry Styles.

And to that I say: “once more with feeling!”

This AI-generated playlist takes into account factors like songs with 1 million streams, buzz words about crushes, and cliché movie soundtracks. But one thing is true: you can’t manufacture a feeling. As I shuffle through one of the most well-liked playlists I’ve created on Spotify, I can recall when, where, and why I added most of the songs. And like a well-crafted playlist, a mixtape should be nothing short of magic.

An Ode to the Past

@lockedgroove Making my partner a mixtape for every year we’ve been together. #vinyl #records #vinylrecords #vinyltok #vinyltiktok #cassette #cassettetape #cassettemixtape #cassettetok #cassettetiktok ♬ original sound - locked groove

In the words of Penny and Sparrow, “Dying is a kind of hunger.” As we realize the cost of the digital age, we reach and search for something more — for the tangible forms of love we shared in the past that can be handed down through generations.

It’s one thing to sit back and recall the songs that make you feel something for someone, and not just a romantic partner. But mixtapes take it a step further, allowing the person to record from vinyl to tape and sit still and recall moments and memories of the one they love as the tape’s being created. Time is not money — it's love.

So, no, a playlist is not and will never be the modern equivalent of a mixtape for a loved one. Yes, receiving a text with a Spotify link pales in comparison to a plastic mixtape with a handwritten note. And yes, we’ll all be called posers for maybe one day deciding to create a mixtape for a loved one, even if it’s just once.

But our children and our children's children will know what love sounds like and that seems worth the time to me.

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