Why you should ‘skip’ and not ‘shuffle’
The importance of random numbers in communications and social networks is discussed here.
Be it seeing a man in the moon or Jesus on toast, the human brain is hard-wired to notice patterns in random phenomena. This effect was once highly valuable for human survival, but it is now more of a nuisance. One such example is the clustering illusion in the random playlist ordering, or shuffling, of music. This illusion occurs when a person sees the naturally-emerging streaks in a truly random playlist as non-random, for instance finding a streak of all the same artist being played in a row, or the same album.
Music players on shuffle originally used just a random number to determine what song to play next –reordering the music into a playlist determined by this randomness source and playing down it. This direct approach resulted in many complaints, ranging from claiming a broken or flawed randomisation system, to allegations of collusion with artists to have their music played more often.
Modern music players and streaming services such as Spotify employ extra algorithms to the shuffle process, reducing the actual randomness of the shuffle to make the resulting playing order seem more random to listeners.
These algorithms, inspired by audio and image processing techniques, deliberately group related tracks (such as album, artist, genre and so on) and spread them evenly but randomly throughout a playlist. This process results in a more uniform distribution of tracks throughout the playlist and removes that clustering our minds are pre-programmed to notice!
This means that the first song to play is completely randomised every time the playlist is shuffled but is processed to avoid grouping for every song in the playlist afterwards. In other words, to avoid hearing similar songs in a row when listening to music on shuffle mode you should press ‘skip’, not ‘shuffle’ to move to a new song.
The selection of lottery numbers is another example where human intuition of randomness and real randomness differ. When the numbers are selected, consecutive sequences like 1,2,3,4,5,6, are just as likely to emerge as any other –but if they were to emerge from an actual draw many would believe them to not be random. Find out more about randomness in lotteries here.
‘Hearing things’ – The patterns in your music that aren’t actually there