Friday, June 24, 2005

'Pod People

I am one of those people who don’t own an iPod, part of a shrinking majority, I’m afraid. Why don’t I have one? Well, part of it is my innate tendency to go against the grain, to do the opposite of what everyone else does “just because.” The more people say how great something is, the more I want to run for the hills. Just part of my makeup, I guess.

Part of it is laziness, too—do I really want to spend hours uploading every one of the literally hundreds of CDs that I own and then loading them onto that pesky little device? And do I want to eat up my computer’s memory (and yes, I know all about external hard drives and such) with all these damn music files?

But there are two really good fundamental reasons why I don’t have one yet. One: do I really need to carry my entire CD collection around with me wherever I go? Do I need music 24/7? And two: when, where and how will I hear new music if I am constantly plugged into a little gadget that feeds me stuff I already know about?

Let’s take the first question first. Why on earth do I—does anyone—need his or her entire music collection on their person at all times? Are you planning on being trapped on a desert island in the near future? There is such thing as too much of a good thing, after all. And furthermore, speaking for myself, I find that it detracts from my daily experience to be shut off from the aural world when I’m out and about. I rather enjoy looking at people, soaking up the sounds of the city, hearing parts of conversations (well sometimes), birds singing, babies crying, etc. I don’t like to be cut off from the world by my CD collection. Yes, there are times when you need to be cut off, but all the time? It’s part of a writer’s job to observe the world, and it’s hard to do that with the Sex Pistols throbbing in your brain. Besides which, I think it’s kind of dangerous to not be able to hear what’s going on around you when you’re out walking, especially if you’re a woman. But maybe that’s just my urban paranoia.

Second (and more important in my humble opinion), how am I going to hear new music (not to mention talk radio!) if I am constantly plugged into my own CD collection? After all, iPods can only carry music we already own; as of yet they have no radio function. So, gone are the moments of amazing discovery—the times when you get that jolt of electricity from hearing something really cool, and knowing that others are getting that same jolt at exactly the same time. Music is a much more diversified, private, specialized thing now, and that’s too bad. I wanna hear that great AC/DC song for the first time on my car radio at full blast with the wind blowing in my hair and the sun shining on my face while I’m driving by myself on the first day of summer, knowing that somewhere out there, there are other kids who are annoying their parents by turning the volume up to eleven, and maybe somewhere there is a sad kid who doesn’t feel so alone now...I don’t want a sonic blast from Down Under when I’m sitting in my boring little apartment downloading at 2 a.m. in a dark, lonely room. Music is to be shared, and file sharing does that. But it’s just not the same. Besides, I don’t have time to sift through all that music—er, files—and figure out what I need to hear. That’s what good DJs do—they share the music they love with us, and more importantly, they give it context and meaning. They are our best friends; they educate us about life.

I know I am not alone when I say I miss radio the way it used to be. The growth of satellite networks Sirius and XM tells me I am not alone. Yes, there are stations on these networks that cater to very specialized audiences—you know, the people who need to hear Dark Side of the Moon for the umpteenth time—but I believe that there are just as many (if not more) people who want to be challenged by music. Because human beings, though they crave the security of the known, also crave the mystery of the unknown. And that’s what is truly great about radio at its best.

So until those pesky people at Apple include a subscription to Sirius in their little ‘Pods (something about that name always reminds me of Invasion of the Body Snatchers), I’m out. Cos I need that jolt to stay alive…

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