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Maybe Our Tastes Don't Calcify As We Age?

I had an interesting exchange recently while interviewing Tim Westergren, co-founder of the (just-public) internet radio company Pandora for our Freakonomics Radio hour called “The Folly of Prediction.” (We argue in the show that Pandora represents a narrow but worthy example of our ability to predict the future — unlike most realms, like politics, the economy, and so on.)

DUBNER: You know, there’s a neat body of research that shows that people’s tastes in the kind of stuff they consume — whether it’s food, or music, or art, and so on — tend to get fairly frozen in time by the time you hit your mid-thirties or so. Do you know anything about that — about the speed and variance at which people adopt new musical tastes, or are at least willing to experiment, versus their ages?
WESTERGREN: You know, it’s funny, someone said to me a long time ago when I embarked on this, “Why are you doing this? People don’t want new music. I look at my friends and they have the same CD’s they’ve had for 20 years — what problem are you trying to solve?” And I think the truth is the reason that people’s music tastes atrophy is not because they don’t long for discovery. It’s because they don’t have time anymore, and what are they going to do? I know there’s actually a biologist who literally studied this, a fellow at Stanford who studied this, because it seemed like such a strong correlation, but it’s basically when you get busy. When you have a job and you have a family you don’t have time to do anymore. But if you look up behavior on Pandora, the level of enthusiasm, and intensity, and discovery that’s happening is just as rich for folks in their seventies and eighties as it is for, you know, teenagers.


As someone who is past his mid-thirties, I find this idea appealing. I’m not sure whether Westergren inspired me or whether his news merely confirmed reality, but I have been on a recent binge of trying new things (food, music, places, books, people), and am generally having a blast.
And it looks like the AARP (which no longer calls itself the American Association of Retired People, btw) believes what Westergren believes: it has launched its own internet radio service, with the goal of introducing its members to new music. Here’s Marc Morgenstern of Concord Music Group (which programs the AARP player) in a recent Times article:

“Older people get a bum rap, that they’re kind of frozen in time,” Mr. Morgenstern said in an interview at Concord’s office in Beverly Hills, where the walls are lined with posters of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Elvis Costello as well as some of the label’s younger stars, like Alison Krauss.
“Everyone has a certain affinity for the music of their youth,” he added. “But people really do want to find something new, something that may not stray far from what they’re familiar with but bring a huge gust of fresh air.”

That said, most of the AARP stations are some form of oldie or “lite” channel — and there’s an entire station devoted to Paul Simon.