What Came Before

My tamagotchi never died

I think my Spotify profile hates me.

I spent September in Spain, and the outrageous cost of data outside the U.S. was a good excuse to go on an iPhone diet. During that time I didn’t log into Spotify a single time. Before my trip, I downloaded my favorite songs from 2016 directly to the phone and used those as a soundtrack to long walks through Sevilla’s narrow streets and bustling plazas.

From Spotify’s perspective, I’d ghosted them. At no point did my account check in with their servers, let them know where I’d been and what I’d listened to.

My algorithm was starving.

Every Monday, Spotify generates a playlist called Discover Weekly, where they use your listening habits to automatically select an hour of songs that you might enjoy. The more you listen (and the more your tastes fall into a narrow and predictable set of genres), the better their recommendations become.

Spotify introduced me to many of my favorite musicians this year: NAO, Tei Shi, Gallant. Under-the-radar geniuses that I probably would have missed without a good music sherpa. In it’s best moments, Spotify understands my preferences better than I understand myself.

Upon my return from Europe, something had changed. I fired up Discover Weekly and… their predictions seemed desperate and inaccurate. Here was a bland funk remix. There was atonal indie rock dirge. Starving for data, my algorithm had started flailing.

Or. Perhaps it was passive-aggressively trying to teach me a lesson: “Here, want to disappear for a few weeks? Hey, I don’t care. Go on! While you’re at it, why don’t you check out this cool Puddle of Mudd B-side. And you like rap, right? Get on this hot Wiz Khalifa collab! Stupid idiots love it!”

I recently came across a video where kids from 2016 react to Tamagotchis, the toys from the mid-90s that tasked children with taking care of a baby alien. Every few minutes the Tamagotchi beeped to get your attention – to play, to eat, to poop. My friends and I spent about a month of fifth grade tending to our pixel babies. And then we moved on. I put my Tamagotchi in the dresser drawer next to my old folders and notebooks. It chirped, and it chirped, and then finally fell silent.

I thought, along with everyone else, that my Tamagotchi’s spirit died along with its nickel battery. Instead, like Obi Wan Kenobi, Tamagotchis became more powerful than we could possibly imagine. They are the invisible force that surrounds us, binds our millennial technology together. The buzz in our pocket, the iPhone notification, the email that begins “We noticed you haven’t logged in for awhile…”

The ghosts of our digipets, chirping away. They are hungry. We must feed them.