Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Seeking versus Wandering, or Another Reason to Love Pandora

At my day job, we listen to Pandora all day.  Because there are at least four people hitting the “thumbs-up” and “thumbs-down” buttons on our station, Pandora tends to get confused about our preferences.  Today, it played a song from the Amelie soundtrack (entirely instrumental and featuring an accordion) followed immediately by The Police.

Sometimes, this is annoying.  Like when I’m really in the mood for classic 80s rock and get hit with the theme song from Lord of the Rings instead.  But the benefit of this schizophrenia is that I discover music I wouldn’t normally seek out on my own personal Pandora stations.  Today, along with the aforementioned songs, I heard one that the main character of my work-in-progress would *love.*  By the time the chorus rolled around, I said to myself, “Now THAT’s what she’d have on her iPod.”  I created my own Pandora station from the artist, and I spent all evening listening to my character’s music, getting deeper into her head.

The whole experience has me thinking about the things we seek out versus the things we discover, and how being too focused about our goals can make us miss really fascinating side trips.  If not for the randomness of my workplace Pandora station, I never would have heard this song, because my characters don’t always listen to the same music I do.  It’s a trivial example of a more important point: In any creative field, it’s important to have “wandering time,” periods when you don’t have a specific goal—or even the hope of a goal—to distract you.  Seeking out information is important, but it’s just as important to let your mind wander, trusting instinct and luck to bring you somewhere interesting. 

I try to build “wandering time” into my life by getting semi-lost on long walks, cruising through bookstore sections I don’t normally visit, and, yes, listening to radio stations I typically don’t like. 

How do you wander?


  1. Hmm, good ideas. I don't take enough time to just wander. I admit it's something I should work on.

    I have been listening to a lot of Slacker Radio (Pandora's less popular cousin) lately, though. It's cool to find new music, and to discover songs that seem perfect for a particular character/scene/whatever.

  2. I learned about a similar concept in library school: browse versus search. The way the shelves are organized is meant to encourage browse (discovery). The way the catalog is set up is meant to facilitate search. Sometimes librarians select and strategically place books on shelves so that you "discover" them. Patron manipulation? Why yes! Secret librarian agenda to influence pop-culture? I'll never tell!

  3. @Feliza I must check out Slacker Radio! At my current rate, I'm going to burn through my free Pandora allowance in a week.

    @Emily I love it! Yet another reason why I prefer printed books--you never know what you're going to discover one shelf away. (And I don't put anything past you sneaky librarians...)

  4. I have Pandora One, but I never use it anymore since I can't play it at my work. It worked out better when I was unemployed.

    Great reminder about wandering time. For me, the challenge is not to let wandering time become lying down time become going to sleep time.

  5. Going to sleep time is valuable, too! Sometimes ideas have to spend some time in your subconscious before they're ready for the real world. At least that's how I justify *my* naps.