Monday, July 27, 2009

Pandora

In the midst of a Seattle heat wave, I’ve taken a break from the beach for a moment and am getting caffeinated in another chair in the secret garden of Hotwire Coffee’s outer courtyard. The perpetual plant sale and conveniently placed fencing are providing some good cool relief. It’s just me, the plants and Pandora out here at the moment. Pandora has been a constant companion over the past several months. It’s basically an online personalized radio station. You type in an artist or a style or even a song, hit enter, and a radio station is created. Each time you open Pandora, it begins at your last chosen station and away you go. The interesting part is that you have no idea what’s coming next on the queue, although you do get the opportunity to rate the choice either a thumbs up or a thumbs down. After time, if you hang with it, it compiles your own approved and personalized station. If something comes up, then you also have the opportunity to just skip over it.
I find the name especially intriguing….Pandora… because I am very familiar with the legend of Pandora from Greek mythology, and this is not exactly an accurate portrayal of Pandora. Actually, to me anyway, and at the moment I’m the only one that matters, the Pandora ideology represents a fascinating blend of Greek mythology and current Western culture. The story of Pandora, in it’s barest form, is that Zeus gave her a box, actually it was a clay jar, along with the instruction to never open it. He also conveniently gave her the gift of curiosity. In modern times, I think it translates into the gift of shopping. What he was thinking, I have no idea. Well apparently, as incredibly unlikely as it might have seemed, she opened the box, or clay jar. Out of the open jar sprang, supposedly all the ills of society, including reality TV, televangelists, and instant coffee. Anyway, the assumption was, she opened it without having any idea what would come out.
That, in my opinion, is where the similarities end between the myth and our online version. You open it and are not really sure what will come out. However, while she was powerless to now do anything about these great ills that were loosed on the world, we, in our continued attempt at social engineering, get to eliminate that which we deem to be bad selections not personally chosen. We get to skip over song choices less desirable, either to eliminate them entirely or to wait for a more convenient day. You may think I’m being cynical here, it has happened on occasion, but I find the metaphor here to be very interesting.
The imagery is our vain attempt at engineering our choices, wise or otherwise, to have only outcomes that have passed our acceptability test. The Greeks knew the reality of choice. Choice brings outcome and her choice brought the outcome for the entire society, fair or not, guilty or not. Our culture says that no, I can make a choice, but the outcome, if not entirely acceptable to me, should be passed on until I can experience a suitable outcome. This is technically known as mental illness. I deal with it all of the time. I have a personal version of it in my own life. None of us is totally exempt.
So lest this become really depressing, I will share that, it is said that at the very bottom of her jar, despite everything that had already escaped, there lay “hope”. Although I have a knowledge of Greek mythology, I am not a follower of it. I do however hold this appreciation as it parallels my own faith in Jesus. We do share some important commonalities. I have my own beliefs in the origin of the “ills of society”, but the“ills of society” certainly do exist. Secondly, what is left for us is indeed hope. So, knowing that, as I enjoy my daily interaction with Pandora, I have in recent months refused to “engineer” my own stations. I realize that this probably defeats the purpose of what the creators of this program intended….sorry. I choose to put on my station and then “hope” for the best outcome. It doesn’t always work out for me, to be sure, but I choose to deal with whatever Pandora gives me.

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