Friday, January 11, 2008

Personal Media Player Purchase - Philosophical Analysis

A couple of other concerns nagged at me about whether or not to buy an mp3 player.

It’s the earbuds.

iPod is actually a great name, because the device enables each person to disconnect him or herself from the rest of the world. Because of the portability and the sheer amount of songs you can fit on one of those things, it’s common for people to listen at any time in which conversation is not required.

Instead of listening to the sounds offered by his or her environment, an mp3 player gives its owner the option of piping in more agreeable or more stimulating or less confrontational media. Surroundings become muted. Anything that wants to get attention must fight through the chosen tunes.

So mp3 players encourage the impulse, part of human nature, to withdraw from the rest of the world into a universe in which we are the center. I’ve been part of at least one conversation in which I was competing with an iPod for attention, and it isn’t a good feeling.

To summarize, iPod --> solipsism --> uncomfortable Nick.

I went on a bike ride today, from my house out to a nearby track for a one mile run,* and I took my Sansa View. I was delighted to be accompanied by enjoyable music – it really is magical to have clear and beautiful music delivered by tiny buds which you hardly feel.

By my third lap around the track, the novelty had worn off. Rides are when the silence and the slowly changing landscape help me listen to God, away from the warring stimuli that usually block him out. I realized the last thing I wanted to do was take the stimuli with me during one of the few times I’m actively seeking to hear his voice.

All of that said, weighing all of these concerns I still decided to buy the View, and I really do like the nifty little thing. The experience of brushing my teeth was much improved by listening to The Grateful Dead, and earbuds beat laptop speakers by leaps and bounds.

In general, it’s great to be able to fill boring or half-occupied times with good listening. I just think there’s plenty about these innocuous seeming things to be cautious about.

*Run. Lumbering, panting jog. Same thing.

P.S. Another minor concern was the continuing trend toward more convenient but lower quality music. i.e. live performance --> vinyl --> compact disc --> mp3. But it's hard to argue with a format which allows such a variety of music with such portability. And you have to really listen for the difference at a reasonable bitrate.


M. Weed said...

It's also interesting how the iPod has become an icon of the "mobile lifestyle," on par with or greater than the laptop computer, the shoulder bag, and the blackberry. Despite the fact that most people could easily listen to music the MAJORITY of the time, because they're always sitting in front of computers, they still want the fashion accessory to display their mobile, cosmopolitan sensibility.

And to the last point about more convenience and lower quality: I believe that the iPod encourages people to show less respect to music. You don't have to have an attention span. You can jump around to this or that track, put things on random ---- spend hours listening to music without ever hearing a complete musical idea communicated. It reduces art to unfortunate sound bites. This is a kind of musical Darwinism where the only the cheapest, most hook-oriented music survives.

StefLenz said...

so...a nick at a time is gone?

l e i g h c i a said...

I have various portable music devices. An mp3 player. A CD player. An 3rd generation ipod that's out of electricity (a used gift from my brother) that I haven't had the wherewithall to buy a charger. I never use these things. I spend about ohhh.... 80% of my time in a place where I can hear music. And for the rest of the time, I'm too lazy to haul around another electronic gadget that I have to worry about losing.