Tuesday, July 26, 2005

whether to become a pod person

I haven't ever asked the readership of hella frisch for advice before, but I did read The Wisdom of Crowds and gained a new appreciation for the value of mass opinion. Whether the readership of this blog qualifies as a "crowd" is open to debate - I decided to get rid of my StatCounter so I really have no idea who reads this!

Anyway, my quandary is whether to buy an iPod, the little Apple gizmo that is revolutionizing the music industry. The economic arrangement at the Kent/Blossom festival is fairly complicated, but basically I have $300 or so of heavily subsidized "BlossomBucks" which I can spend on a new iPod, or I can consume mass quantities of Quizno's subs for the next three weeks.

Phrased like that, the answer seems obvious, but I have all sorts of moral qualms about becoming a pod person. I've begun noticing how common they are - here on the Kent St. University campus, I can walk past a dozen students without encountering one who does not have the earphones and the telltale bulge somewhere on their hips. No, I mean the other telltale budge.

I started talking to one about iPods yesterday, and he said, "It's just like Napster in the palm of your hand!" He must have sensed the cringe of someone who had hoped to have a livelihood in music one day - nevertheless, he continued, "Almost everyone has one, and you can copy maybe a hundred songs in a minute or so!"

Of course, I can't stop technology from changing the music business, no matter how long I spend camped out on the moral high ground. It's ironic how the innovations that are most attractive to us as musicians can be the most destructive of our traditions - there was a great article by Alex Ross in The New Yorker last month in which he writes about the invention of the phonograph:
In an 1878 essay, Edison (or his ghostwriter) proclaimed portentously that his invention would "annihilate time and space, and bottle up for posterity the mere utterance of man." Annihilation is, of course, an ambiguous figure of speech. Recording broke down barriers between cultures, but it also placed more archaic musical forms in danger of extinction. In the early years of the century, Bela Bartok, Zoltan Kodaly, and Percy Grainger used phonographs to preserve the voices of elderly folksingers whose timeless ways were being stamped out by the advance of modern life. And what was helping to stamp them out? The phonograph, with its international hit tunes and standardized popular dances.
- from The New Yorker, June 6, 2005, p. 95

So I can say I'll use my iPod only for good and not for evil, but will I really? I said the same thing when I got a notebook computer, and now its hard drive is stuffed with music copied from the Charleston Public Library. I'm planning on deleting it all, really - just as soon as I get around to listening to it!

That's the other big qualm about digital music, and as Alex Ross puts it in the same article, "a paradox common to technological existence: everything gets a little easier and a little less real." Are all those pod people really listening even, I wonder? Or have they just created a nice sonic wallpaper for themselves, an extra layer of insulation so no one can bother them with annoying philosophical questions about the future of art?

For the record, I also thought that all people with cell phones were demon spawn until about five years ago. Please, let me know what you think - I'm listening, really....

You can read the Alex Ross article referenced here in its entirety by clicking here.


urn said...

If your goal is to have a portable MP3 player, I wouldn't bother spending the money on an iPod. I have a little (128MB) MP3 player, and it works just perfectly for what I need it to, with even some added bonuses, and at like a quarter the cost. But! If your goal is to create that "sonic wallpaper," to create a womb of sound so that you only have to pay attention to the drunken ramblings of the masses ON YOUR TIME, then certainly go with the iPod. You'll need the 80 or so gigs, as there are a LOT of drunken ramblings out there to cover up.

Heh. You know? I'd never thought about it before, but that's really what the iPod is for. To shut out the world for as long as possible. Or, for people who want to keep their entire (or a major portion of their) music collection on it. If you fall into either of those categories, go for it!

Joe said...

My opinion is that capacity and ease of use are key. I say go for it, and get the 20 GB one that costs $300 bones (unless you can swing for the larger model), and fill it with your music collection. I have one of those and it's filled to about 13 GB capacity at the moment. Walk down street, push button, hear Beethoven 8. Push next button, hear Mahler 2. Next... U2/Bjork/Moby/podcasts/whatever. The iPod has entirely changed the way I listen to music, and increased my appreciation of it immensely, just by the sheer convenience of it.

If you get one, be sure to get a quality set of headphones. Those little earbuds that Apple ships with the iPods make the worst tinny little sound.

Also I keep a set of reference pitches on my iPod for tuning purposes, and created playlists for my insruments (double bass and guitar) to act as digital pitch pipes. It has come in quite handy on several occasions.

I mostly use my iPod when driving via a direct interface connection to my car stereo, and used to use it when I would ride the train to work in conjunction with a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones to bring back some sense of sanity to the daily madness of commuting via rail.