I got something from an unexpected source; American Express sent us an i-Pod Shuffle as a thank-you for spending ridiculous amounts of money using their card this year (not a good thing in and of itself, mind you). It's very pretty (silver), and while I am light years behind everyone else in terms of updating my technology, I did manage to get it loaded and am listening to it right now (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Brompton Oratory).
You may all laugh like loons at my expense now, I don't mind.
After swearing a lot, I has musics. And very nice it is, too. But it wouldn't be like me to enjoy this thing without coming up with several reservations and telling you all about them (while listening to They Might Be Giants, Birdhouse in Your Soul). Nothing is without philosophical problems, and being who I am, I keep working until I ferret them all out and fret mightily about them.
Just think of me as your own personal Andy Rooney (with much cheaper graphics than 60 Minutes). More hip, perhaps, younger, undoubtedly, but old fashioned, mistrustful of technology, and twenty times as cranky. We both look at new things and think "where's the disaster?", and I bet he really loves that bit in The Towering Inferno where the newest technology (or any technology) fails as much as I do.
Which brings us to the i-Pod, in any form. Most of us have used music occasionally to set the mood, and I think pretty much everyone appreciates a well-composed and utilized movie soundtrack (I am partial to the new Dawn of the Dead soundtrack - Johnny Cash, The Man Comes Around). Given the opportunity to live our lives to a personal, 24/7 soundtrack, tailored to our every mood, why resist the temptation to plug in, switch on, and tune out the real world?
And here's where the redoubtable Mr. Rooney and I twist our knickers in completely different directions.
Andy (who has an eternal grudge against the young) (which, compared to him, is now 98% of the world's population), when faced with any isolating technology of this type, will grumble about how it makes people selfish, that they don't pay attention to the world around them, and will get run over the next time they fail to use any of their other senses and try to cross a busy New York street against the light. He'll snark about how they don't care about birdsong, the sound of the seashore, and the dulcet tones of their parents telling them to clean their room. For good measure, he'll throw in the information that a generation of i-Pod users are going deaf because they play their music too loud.
All good arguments, assuming that a) you care about screeching city pigeons, b) you still live with your parents, and c) you like to blast your music so loud that individual ear cells start waving little "on strike!" signs in protest.
But as far as I'm concerned, what you choose to do to yourself is not my business. If you want to shut out the world, then many poisons exist, from real drugs to WoW and Guitar Hero (wear earphones). If you're not big on birdsong and waves lapping endlessly on a shore, then you're not missing out (or you can download the recordings from i-Tunes' new "Nature" section). And if you go deaf, then I can practice my somewhat rusty sign-language skills on you. No skin off my nose.
What doesn't work for me about the i-Pod is the singularity of the musical enjoyment. Maybe it's because I'm a musician, maybe it's just that I like inflicting my musical choices on other people, but I want to share the experience of a beautiful piece of music. For thousands of years, music has been a communal experience, something that draws people together in, well, harmony (not always perfect, but you can't choose your fellow musicians some of the time). When I listen to a piece that makes my heart soar and brings tears to my eyes, I want to share that experience. I want to see if Bob likes it, too. I want to share this deep experience that only the perfect piece of music brings me. When I dance with my husband in my new house on Christmas Eve, I want both of us to feel the beat with one heart.
The personal nature of the i-Pod denies me that moment; the one where the perfect song comes on the stereo, and we spontaneously start dancing in the sunlight. The chance to harmonize with the melody; the moment when you simultaneously turn to each other and say "this song is AMAZING!!!". If we're both sitting listening to our own music, we lose that connection. For me, that's as big a loss as a bardic circle where no-one performs.
That's the romantic side; there's a darker side that is directly related to how big a fool of myself I'm willing to make in public. Music is a total body experience for me; if it's a good melody, I want to sing or harmonize with it. If it's got a good beat, I want to dance. If everyone else is listening to the same tune, it's not as silly-looking or sounding. While I am more than wiling to dance to my own personal music, I prefer to do it to a beat other people can hear, at least sometimes. And singing without backup instruments is excruciating for other people to deal with (you know you do it, you just don't know how loud).
That being said, the i-Pod has distinct advantages, especially in public spaces. You may think Pretty Ricky is the best thing since sliced bread, but personally, I want to smash any stereo playing it within moments of you hitting "play". The i-Pod solves this problem for both of us. The old Walkmans had pretty crappy earphones; if the sound was turned up louder than subsonic, everyone around you could hear every note. The new earbuds seem to solve that problem somewhat. And I like listening when I'm on my own doing embroidery; 8 hours of music and I never have to get up to change the cd, plus no songs I don't care for (for legal reasons, every cd has at least one song you can't stand).
I think it's a device for when I'm alone; when I'm with Bob (or anyone else), I'd rather be with them than remote. Like talking on your cellphone instead of talking to the person you're with for hours, the i-Pod encourages one to value the input of technology rather than the input of living beings. I still like it (Pet Shop Boys, Rent), but I'm inclined to use it sparingly.
Besides, I'm quite partial to birdsong.
And I have this great song I want to play for you...