Back in the day, I knew a bunch of people that pulled shifts on my college’s radio station. Each DJ had to describe the format of their show, to be listed on the station’s schedule, and without fail, every one of them declared their format — and thus their taste in music — to be “eclectic.” Maybe it was just a simpler time, when we didn’t have the language to describe musical subgenres like “indie electro post-pop,” but for the most part, “eclectic” named an urge on the part of people to individualize themselves, to distinguish themselves from the pack through the medium of playlists.

It didn’t really work. As anyone who has ever listened to college radio might expect, all those diverse tastes and carefully-assembled mixes quickly melted together into a shockingly consistent flow of REM, Ani Difranco, Bob Marley, Guided By Voices, A Tribe Called Quest, Yo La Tengo, and Madonna. As much as everyone claimed to have a unique outlook on music, the only real difference between one radio show and another was whether its DJ was a Paul’s Boutique or a Check Your Head type.

Nowadays it seems that people don’t even try to pretend to conflate the eclectic with the iconoclastic. More and more college radio stations are shifting from free-form free-for-alls to tightly controlled formats that, for all the variety of the music itself, serve to concretize the consensus of their listeners’ collective subconscious. Taking things a step further, music recommendation sites like Last.FM reduce their users’ tastes to mere statistics, mashing their listening histories together to create a giant graph of artists and affinities that not only tells us what music everyone is listening to, but exactly who that everyone is.

It should probably bother me to discover that my listening preferences overlap so heavily with those of a 24-year-old Colombian woman, or with the entire readership of Cat and Girl. But I’m strangely comfortable riding the wave of other people’s musical choices, following their trails to discover music that I had never heard before, but was predestined to enjoy. Databases and clustering algorithms don’t have the air of rock and roll romance that mix tapes and basement radio stations have, but they seem to work with reliability that’s as entertaining as it is disturbing. Is this a good thing, or is it another case of technology fueling the consolidation and homogenization of culture?