Will your I-Pod respect you in the morning?
A recent Wired magazine article (My IPod Myself) touts Markus Giesler, a professor who looks like he's going to be selling barrels of snake oil in a new book he's writing about how I-Pods have changed our lives. Granted, this isn't exactly breaking news that he's reporting on but he's trying to sell the idea that not only do I-Pod owners see their little gadgets as part of themselves but it also turns them into an 'information cyborg' that shapes their very being.
It's a cute idea for sure and from the looks of things, he has a bunch of Pod users lined up who'll parrot back this kind of idea to him so that he can validate his own theories. That's all well and good but it's also unmitigated bullshit. Let's review something rather obvious here. When and why do you use an MP3 player? Answer: you're traveling somewhere or you're waiting on line and you're bored. That's the main purpose of these little toys now: I know this from personal use. Most people still have home stereos and even more, still use a computer, right? If you're at home, you probably won't be listening to it unless you have it hooked up to your computer. In short, it's used for parts of your life as you maneuver from one thing to the next. The Pod stops you from getting bored as you're going somewhere. As Giesler points out, the shuffle function is definitely something that puts it ahead of a Walkman as you can create your own radio station but just like the Walkman, it's there to distract you from the dull parts of your day. And yes, it's a status symbol too.
Pods are starting to get used in public realms, such as clubs that have DJ nights using them as source music, but ultimately, we're still using them now to make our own little sonic bubble for us to inhabit. But with the DJ function, weren't we already able to do that with mixtapes and cassettes? The difference is that we now have nine or twenty hours of music to spin in one device instead of 90 minutes and of course, we can shuffle. Podcasting might also hold the promise of sharing our musical taste with the world if it catches on more and is actually used enough too- neither of these things is a given mind you, so we'll see.
Giesler goes on to craft all sort of techno-babble words to impress people with his ideas and then claim how Pods are part of ourselves and make us feel alive. He's acting like some kind of cut-rate Marshall McLuhan, who truth be known, also puffed himself up a lot but had the goods to back it up. Giesler himself might too but it's going to take more than catch-words to get there. I don't sleep with my MP3 player and I don't worry if it doesn't respect my taste in music. It's a high-tech toy that lets you lug around your music collection in one place- that's revolutionary for sure but not something you'd want to make out with (I hope).
If you'd like to see a much smarter breakdown of what the I-Pod is about, I'd recommend Dethroning King Gillette where we see how the Apple model is really about selling machinery rather than selling songs. Warning: the article does get a little too technical even for me towards the end but makes some really good, thoughtful points overall.
There will be more I-Pod fun here soon, including how to beat Apple at its own game.