Hell is someone blaming it on technology

<p>In "In an age of atomization and social fragmentation it reinforces solipsism and places the individual and that dreaded value 'choice' at the heard of the experience…it encourages people to 'tune-out' while they're occupying social space with others, as if [they] were mere irritations; and it reduces the experience of music, which in my view is an inherently social and collaborative art and medium to a preselected relationship with the self"<br /> Ok, so it reinforces what is already there. Since the post war 50's Americans have had unprecedented choice in almost every realm of life. Dozens of brands of cereal, styles of shoes, models of cars, soap, detergent, toothpaste. Many would argue that the ability to choose and always find something a little better that what one has now has led to the degradation of the institution of marriage. That because i can always find some detergent better than the one i have, i am never quite content with the one i am with.</p> <p>Before the iPod people “tuned outâ€? as someone who has been riding the subway and bus for a decade in NYC i cannot remember a conversation with a fellow traveler who was unknown to me when i got on the train. Whether listening to a walkman, or reading a book or the newspaper, or the adverts in the subway, I have never entertained conversations with strangers on the train. This is not to say I have not through about breaking the awkward silence, but what is to be gained in trivial conversation about the smell, the heat, or the slowness of the train? Perhaps overtime that conversation could lead to something more meaningful but more often than not it would be a Sisyphean hell of “how bout this weatherâ€? small talk. Personally I would rather read the paper, or listen to music, audio books or audio commentary on a personal audio device. Sometimes people sharing your public space are mere irritations. Sometimes you need a buffer from other people and their ideas, sometimes you just don't want to talk.</p> <p><cite>"[The iPod and other personal audio devices] personalize, indeed privatize, music, which really comes to life only when it is public, shared, and collaborative. A large part of the joy of discovering good new music is simultaneously anticipating the pleasure of sharing it with someone else."</cite></p> <p>It has been a long while since people regularly gathered round the campfire, or the hearth, or town square or where ever people once gathered and played and sung music together. So the idea that music has at any time in recent history been a collaborative experience for most people is absurd. Certainly there is something about going to a concert and hearing the first chords of an amazing song with hundreds or thousands of other fans and the crowd goes wild. That is not, however, the typical way that folks enjoy music. More often than not, Americans today enjoy music in their car, or in their home. Listening to an iPod as you walk down the street is not mutually exclusive with going to a show and hearing an opening band that impresses you, going home, downloading their song from their website, taking your iPod to work the next day and playing the song for a coworker. Music comes alive to different people in different ways. Some people would say that they can only enjoy music when there isn't some drunk guy singing along next to them, or only when they can eliminate all other sensory stimuli: putting on headphone while sitting in the dark.</p> <p><cite>"Unlike listening to (good) radio, which could infuriate and surprise you in equal measure, the iPod jukebox protects you from the shocks, both highs and lows; it offers you a safe experience that flatters, because every good track was one you chose, every familiar song reminds you of an emotion or memory: yours."</cite></p> <p>With just a few media companies owning the majority of radio stations, and computer programs picking play lists the idea that the average American can find good radio being broadcast when they are listening is absurd. Commercial stations generally play the same songs in heavy rotation interrupted by interminable blocks of annoying commercial and pointless banter between "Djs" who's job it is to blather on to the lowest comon denominator. There are some gems out there, college radio and independent stations, public radio and the like. But why does Mellville think that there is something intrinsically different in listening to the radio? If i listen to a radio show on my iPod, a "podcast" is that ok by him? Even if the experience is time shifted and others are not listening at the same moment as me?</p> <p>Sure the experience of listening to your own music is "safe" in the sense that you are not hearing anything that you have not ears at least once before. But not all music is safe. Lyrics can challenge, as can instrumental composition. And yes, it may "flatter" me to hear the music that I have chosen, reminding me of my good taste, what is the problem with that? Oh and as for those emotions and memories that are mine, same thing when I hear a song on the radio that I know, or in concert. Indeed, some music on my iPod reminds me of specific concerts I have attending. One album i listen to frequently reminds me of a particular summer, and the particular emotions of that time in my life. What is wrong with reminiscing with the aid of music? Does it allow me to escape my current emotion? Sure does. Is there a problem with that? Before my iPod, i would put that album on and listen to it at home, usually alone, to enjoy that music and evoke the memories associated with it.</p> <p>On a recent 24 hour road trip car trip with 4 friends, we each (well, 4 out of the 5) had iPods and we took turns playing music over the car's stereo system, for probably 18 hours. We talked about various things over the music, and talked about the music, sang along in some cases, or just listened in others. The radio was devoid of anything worthwhile across 650 miles of the United States. We probably could have tuned in here and there for some college radio, but in all we would have listened to a whole lot of worthless drivel and top 40 for a little bit of quality radio.</p> <p>By Melville's account you would expect that just 5 short years ago, before the iPod, strangers were having engaging conversations at every opportunity. We know this to not be the case. To blame the iPod and other personalizing technologies is absurd. People are inventing the technologies and adopting them BECAUSE of the way things are. So yes, the technologies may "reinforce" but they are not the root of the problem. To get at the root we would need to have a much longer reflective discussion on the failure of our country's education systems, the breakdown of the family caused by wage stagnation and overwork as well as the overbooking of children's time. I am sure we could find blame in open office plans which cram people together in the name of cooperation and communication but lead to resentment and isolation. Basically a whole host of things have lead us to where we are today, and to blame one machine or technology is overly simplistic.</p> <p>All that said, do I think some people abuse their iPod? Yes. Am I one of them? Sometimes. Can the device, and others like it be a useful technology that enhances our lives? Yes. </p> <p>Hell is pointless nostalgia for our Luddite past. A time that is gone and will not be regained.</p>

Discover more from Gregory Heller

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading