For The New Yorker, Alex Ross wrote about Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power and the moment right after 2000 when Google “discovered the benefits of ‘behavioral surplus’—the detritus of data that users leave behind when they visit the site.” These are the data that let Google target you with ads and videos. The first time I noticed being targeted was inside a Gmail tab. That free email service—once invitation-only, like Facebook—turns fifteen this week.
Many users have already intuited much of what Zuboff documents. (Her book is an even-tempered blend of mass market and academic.) It’s a bit surprising now when your Messages—not a Google product—end up affecting your YouTube suggestions, but not very. People figure out which conversations need to be done Mafia-style, walking beside a street sweeper, and which can be left for the data prawns. Online scrapes yield an uneven thickness; any biographical picture made from residual data is going to be off. The gods of Google know almost everything, but they don’t know the order of the everything. If you still get your weather from 1010 WINS, Google may think you don’t even like that Dark Sky extension you just added to Chrome.
The progress of “Bottoms Up” (unofficial name) by The Boyboy West Coast (official name) has the rhythm of a randomized data scrape. The song hit the internet as a fragment, a single verse posted to Boyboy’s Instagram page in September of 2018. The goofball roboclub vibe is productively confusing. This song could have been made by any person from any country at any point in the last twenty years. Is it rap? Is this tough guy an actual tough guy? Are there still clubs?
From there, Boyboy and the audience become each other’s behavioral surplus, sticking to each other in the wind of exchange. Memes bloom, months pass, and then Boyboy posts the second verse. By the time of his Genius Verified interview last month—see below—it was not clear if Boyboy had finished the song or licensed the music from LiL Medic Beats, who posted the original track in June of 2017. An Instagram post from a few days ago suggests that Boyboy has signed to Republic Records. Mazels, Boyman.
One of the greatest tools of data finding and rearranging is BitTorrent, a decentralized platform that quietly exhausted the big studios and labels, all of whom more or less gave up trying to prosecute torrenting pirates. “Bottoms Up” has been moving like a BitTorrent cohering in real time, out of order and everywhere at once. The beat flew across the data thistles and stuck to Boyboy, who began to make a song, which was then overtaken by memework, which then encouraged more song stuff to bloom, which fed TikToks and comment threads about whether we like “Bottoms Up” because Boyboy is a living bitmoji or because maybe the track is just an effervescent crusher and maybe it sounds like 2008 and anyway, it’s everywhere, it’s been suggested for you, you already know it.