Monday, January 30, 2006

Pod People

Like it or not, we're living in the age of the iPod. Apple has sold over 40 million units of this newfangled gadgetry (14 million in the last quarter of 2005 alone) and there's no end in sight. Let the backlash begin!

Apparently, there are some risks that come with iPod ownership (other than going broke, that is). First off, you could be walking down the street rocking out to the latest Nickelback single, which would make you easy prey for a mugger. Of course, you'd deserve to get your ass kicked for listening to Nickelback, but, on the upside, the mugger would be much less likely to steal your iPod if you were.

Another bit of alarmism for the iPod generation is actually just a dusted-off scare tactic from the golden age of the Sony Walkman: deafness. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, iPods and other such devices are capable of causing permanent damage to the hearing of our nation's hip, young, rich iPod owners. Pity.
Digital technology has made it possible to play music in these devices at loud volumes without the signal distortion produced by, say, a transistor radio. And Apple touts its newest iPods as being capable of holding up to 15,000 songs and being able to play for up to 20 hours on a fully charged battery. Therein lies potential for trouble.
If you listen to the Cassandras, it gets a whole lot worse than that. At stake is not merely our aural health, but our very culture as well. Again, this is not new. Back in 1987, Allan Bloom had this to say in The Closing of the American Mind: "As long as [young people] have the Walkman on, they cannot hear what the great tradition has to say. And, after its prolonged use, when they take it off, they find they are deaf." The deafness of which Bloom writes is, for the most part, a metaphysical affliction. Now some researchers from Britain are predicting a similar calamity for the iPod People.
The accessibility of music has meant that it is taken for granted and does not require a deep emotional commitment once associated with music appreciation.
That according to "music psychologist" Adrian North of the University of Leicester, who probably really, really loved Mott the Hoople and the kids today, they just don't have the passion, man. Among the researchers' other findings:
...because of greater accessibility through mass media, music was nowadays seen more as a commodity that is produced, distributed and consumed like any other. It could also account for the popularity of television talent competitions, particularly in Britain, which allow viewers from the "iPod generation" a rare chance to engage and appreciate music and live performances...
Yes, blame the iPods for that. Perhaps people see music as "a commodity that is produced, distributed and consumed like any other" because it is. Why don't these guys swith off BBC 4 long enough to have a look at what passes for music these days on MTV? It's all about grillz and lovely lady lumps, and God knows the Pussycat Dolls are some sort of atrocious result of a brainstorming session in the marketing department over at Maxim. Maybe, just maybe, people lack a deep emotional commitment to today's music because it is, with so few exceptions, utter, irredeemable crap. People don't like American Idol and Popstar because these shows are a "rare chance to engage and appreciate music." They like them because they are just as prepackaged and nonthreatening as the music they're downloading for free from Russian websites. The message of American Idol is not about authenticity, it's about the opposite. We can mold you into a star. No artistic vision necessary. Hey, maybe they'll sing a Kelly Clarkson song!

"The degree of accessibility and choice," says North, "has arguably led to a rather passive attitude towards music heard in everyday life." So what's the solution? Apparently, music should be less accessible. North sounds like a hipster who gets pissed off when his favorite underground band goes mainstream. [Insert lame-ass band here] can only be truly appreciated by smart people like me. The rest of you are posers! Yeah? Well I have the ultra-rare, limited-edition, numbered quintuple seven-inch box-set. And you only think of music as a commodity.

What North doesn't understand is that most people have a passive attitude toward music. So they're listening to a wider variety of stuff now. So what? Don't blame iPods, blame the shallow, repetitive, cannibalistic music industry instead. If only you were as smart and discerning as North. Then you'd know what I was talking about.
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