Tuesday, December 19, 2006

iPod vs. wePod

I've been noticing in the Sunday newspaper ads that there are now stereos, speaker units and even alarm clocks that are designed to have iPods plug into them. This is an interesting development, because it seems to be a reversal of the trend toward privatization and personalization in music listening. Historically, the earliest music playing devices were meant to be listened to corporately, in group settings, whether gramophones or radios or turntables or even jukeboxes. Music was enjoyed in social settings like dance halls, discos or nightclubs. It wasn't until the Walkmans of the 1980s and their accompanying headsets that people tended to turn the music experience into a private, isolating one, on the bus, while jogging, etc. iPods have of course been the latest version of this, and I find it significant that there might be a reaction against listening to one's own private playlists in isolation and instead a move toward music that can be experienced beyond the individual.

This reminds me of a random comment that Andy Crouch made during my Calvin seminar last July - he mentioned that his family owns an iPod, but that the kids are not allowed to use it privately. It is meant for the family to use and share together. I don't know if he meant that they all have their own earpieces on a shared output jack, or if the iPod is plugged into a larger amplification device, but the concept is still a good one. Andy also mentioned that they try to be intentional about listening to music that is generated by local artists and personal acquaintences, rather than stuff from major labels.

I don't own an iPod, personally - I haven't really kept up with current music since the mid-'90s. My car radio presets are retro '80s stuff, a Christian station or two and NPR, which is by far what I listen to most of the time. What is interesting to me sociologically about iPods is how they and iTunes dovetail nicely with the whole long tail concept. I stopped buying CDs in the '90s because they were expensive, I couldn't keep up, and I never cared for all the songs (hence I tended to buy things like greatest hits albums). But the physicality of CDs meant that at least there was a limit to the amount of music you would get at any one time. If I were to buy songs one at a time, the infinite playlist might mean that there would be no end to possible purchases. I'd be curious to find out if people ultimately buy more or less music a song at a time rather than by the CD.

At any rate, thinking about iPods as an icon of Western individualism made me notice how much this permeates society. It's MySpace, not WeSpace. If you go to iVillage.com, the running heads change each time you refresh the screen: "i want, i need, i post-rationalize . . . i worry, i check, i checkup . . . i hope, i stretch, i glow . . . " I suppose this is the fusion of individualism, personalization and consumerism. And yet we yearn for community and niche tribalism. We seek out and connect with communities even as they're positioned as being all about me. Sigh.

1 comment:

L.L. Barkat said...

Pods. [shiver] All I know is they gave me nightmares for months after I watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers as a kid. And, you can bet I wanted community at that point!