Everything Wrapped, and what it shows us

Every time the end of the year approaches, social media becomes a place to show off everything from your life in the past 11-12 months. One of the more prominent ones is, of course, Spotify Wrapped – Spotify’s funny, sleek overview of that year’s listening activity to expose your basic or cringey music taste. It doesn’t end there, though: many more online services are offering summaries, statistics and other shareable details for consumers to peruse.

Opinions on sharing these posts vary from person to person, with some people loving the opportunity to be nosy, and others almost wishing that posting screenshots would be forbidden in the month of December. The wide range of opinions seems to spawn a wave of memes every year.

However, these statistics and visualisations are not limited to the 12th month: internet users seem to be quite addicted to them year-round. Everything on your phone that can be screenshot, probably will be shared. Anything from music overviews to sleep data, and from screentime to fitness statistics gets posted on the regular. While this can make for some interesting content to view, like funny running routes, there are a handful of concerns that come with sharing everything that your phone and other smart-devices can give you. Additionally, this data sharing gives us some insight in the societal changes that came along with social and digital media.

From @spotifypakistan on instagram: some people are very concerned about how their yearly overviews turn out

The first phenomenon looks quite innocent at first glance, but can actually have an impact. Users are changing the way they use their devices just to meddle with the statistics and visualisations that they post online, which defeats the purpose of them: to show an overview or statistics of what you have been doing. Even a seemingly harmless action like ‘setting up’ your Spotify Wrapped to look cooler at the end of the year can push users into using the platform in a different way than they would like to. There are also more impactful changes though: closely monitoring your sleep data has been shown (on several occasions) to negatively impact sleep quality, and any data you see might not even be that accurate due to how easily manipulated they are. Anyone taking these data too seriously may compare themselves to things that are simply not realistic, relevant or useful. People are changing their behaviour to show it off online, rather than posting things they have already accomplished. While they may be changes for the better (e.g. walking more), it does show how much our digital media can influence our life away from the screens, and can also easily go wrong. More and more frequently, people lose sight of their goals or interests, instead focusing on what looks good to post on social media. It’s like the selfie for those who don’t like posting pictures of themselves!

That brings us to the next point, which is… why? What is the purpose of sharing data like these with people we barely interact with? Sure, if you end up in the top 0.01% of Kidz Bop listeners, it’s fun to share with your friends. But most people’s social media following extends beyond direct friends and family, so why do we feel so compelled to share the exact makeup of our nights’ sleep, the number of reps we did or how many books we read this year? I believe it links back to the fact that we’re becoming less anonymous online. When more people are themselves online, you have to try harder to stand out and build a strong identity online. Of course, using Real Numbers™ will back you up in whatever interesting traits of yourself you try to highlight on your accounts! We could possibly even be seeing the impact of online validation here.

Finally, there are of course concerns about safety and data privacy. We shouldn’t post everything online, not in small part simply due to how easy it is to get doxxed or otherwise be subjected to harmful behaviour. Another concern is about the amount of data that truly is collected. While tracking various things can be very useful for consumers, they are also great material for companies. Take the new abortion laws in the U.S., for example: data from menstrual cycle trackers could be used to incriminate people, even if these data were never a problem in the past. Anything from invasive marketing to literal human rights violations is at stake here, but at least it’s fun if we get to see it!

To conclude, I would say that “Everything Wrapped” (as I will call it) shows the modern person’s ever-changing decision between, and opinion on, online identity and safety. And as always, it doesn’t have to be so serious, but thinking about why statistics like Spotify Wrapped are so popular in digital media can be just as interesting as the funky little slideshow itself. Now, I’m off to prepare my playlist for next year so I’ll have a totally quirky and unique Wrapped!