Wednesday, February 27, 2008

iPods Are for Pod People

Digital revolution replaces listening to music by filing it

I just picked up the new issue of UGLY THINGS, Mike Stax's wonderful bi-annual garage rock music mag, and had an epiphany while reading Tim Earnshaw' "Ugly Thinks" column. Earnshaw was writing about how the iPod Generation's almost unlimited access to songs has made listening to music routine.

"When you have routine access to thousands of songs, listening to music can be routine."

Yes, so true! Gil Scott-Heron was wrong. The revolution will be televised. And podcast. And uploaded to the Internet where it can be bit streamed and downloaded via Bit Torrents. But the end result is that the revolution becomes institution. Ordinary. Hum-drum.

Full disclosure: I have an iPod Shuffle. Which I sometimes enjoy, especially when riding mass transit or walking down the street as it allows me to ignore crazy people screaming at me or asking me for money. But, like the Replicants in Bladerunner, I'm physical. That is, I like to have and to hold my music, in my hand, with liner notes and pictures. (Hopelessly Old School, I know.)

Too Much, Too Soon?

Earnshaw observes that "The digital revolution has replaced listening to music by filing it" and earnestly continues:
It's a long way from having the choice of how many times you're going to play this single, to having the choice of listening to pretty much anything you want, and I'm not convinced it's made the core experience, the listening, any more intense.

The iPod generation has its own illusory random access generator. Sure, the shuffle feature may seem to enable fugitive listening, but unless you stole the damn thing you're going to have a pretty good idea of what's on there, and it's only the sequence that surprises. Downloading MP3s from the internet has become a listening-replacement activity in itself. We all know the pulpy guy with bad skin who spends more time hunting for and downloading MP3s (stock his basement for the apocalypse) than he does listening to them, filling additional hard disks with material he has vague plans, perhaps, of getting around to listening to someday. When choice of listening is determined by a mouse click, not even requiring the slothlike physical activity of crawling to the stereo and the knee-crippling crouch by the [record shelf] racks, skipping from the Misunderstood to Burning Spear in mid-song has never been easier, so that's all you tend to do, like zapping the TV...the stoned communion has become partitioned office-work, or white-wired isolation on public transport. iPods are for pod people.

Radio? It's become so niched, with musical surprise being deemed a Bad Thing for a healthy demographic, that I doubt it has the revelatory power it used to. And now, more of the same, to take you up to the news at the top of the hour. You're missed, John Peel.

For me, and perhaps for you, the idea that anything new and exciting is even possible anymore in pop and rock, in the sense that it damn well was back then, is a vague hope at best...

What we need is to hear the music for the first time again, to be swept up out of the world by grace, not choice."

Related Links:
Ugly Things website (
Ugly Things (Wikipedia)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent post.

discovered your blog by way of a ... Tim Earnshaw search (enjoyed his novel Godbox a few year back and was wondering what he's up to today).

12:56 AM  

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