Society never ends, it just fades away
Andrew Sullivan wrote about the dangers of iPod proliferation in last week’s Sunday Times. He spent some time in New York City, and everyone was wearing iPods and they all ignored him, bumped into him, and couldn’t hear him say “excuse me” when it happened.
My limited experience in New York City before the iPod explosion is that this is normal behavior. Pedestrians ignore motorists when the walk light is red, and motorists ignore pedestrians when the walk light is white. Each group bumps into each other and themselves on a regular basis, and anything less than strong expletives is completely ignored. This has nothing to do with the iPod and everything to do with New York City being New York City.
And my experience with the iPod’s ubiquitous white earplugs is that they let in ambient noise just fine. They weren’t ignoring him because they couldn’t hear him, they were ignoring him because, well, because he didn’t know the language. Telling someone to fuck their mother is a friendly hello. Hitting them with your car is the satisfaction of a new friend.
His most worthwhile observation was that iPod users sometimes accidentally break out into out-of-tune singing to whatever is on their Pod. But he seems to think that it’s bad, whereas I stand with Joni Mitchell that the more out-of-tune voices, the better. And that’s the real point of Andrew’s editorial. The proliferation of multiple viewpoints runs the risk of isolating individuals so that they hear only the viewpoints that they want to hear. We as individuals need more out-of-tune voices.
It’s an important observation. It isn’t a new one. I called the Internet a word processor for personal relationships back in 1995 in “What Your Children are Doing on the Information Highway”. I said that it demarginalizes deviant opinions. And I was referencing Bill Moyer’s observation in 1985 or 1986 that when Marshall McLuhan said that global communications would turn the world into a global village, he didn’t know that village would be Beirut.
It’s important, and important that we understand what it means. The Internet and the proliferation of news sources allows us to choose our community with far less regard to geographical boundaries. No matter how strange our obsession, someone else in the world shares it. The Internet lets us find that person. It goes further than that, because we can compartmentalize our obsessions. We can join movie discussion groups to talk about movies; only rarely will political discussions intrude. Each area has its own topic.
Still, I’m a lot less pessimistic today than I was in 1995. The blog, and its successor, thrives on displaying opposing viewpoints. Even if you avoid sites such as Google News or Memeorandum, it is difficult to find a blog which agrees with you, without also finding one that links to blogs that don’t agree with you. Where talk radio shows and television news shows discuss viewpoints which you can’t go back and see on your own, blogs link back to the unfiltered original.
Further, the ability to choose the viewpoints we want to read and hear, today, is better than what we had. Before today, the only viewpoints we heard were local viewpoints and the three or so mainstream media viewpoints. The latter tended not to diverge by much. Our ability to choose narrow viewpoints is better than having narrow viewpoints forced upon us.
- April 26, 2005: iPods and the future of social interaction
Why is it astonishing that a generation which finds itself bombarded with advertising and the crass commercial commodification of public space at every turn would want an isolationist bubble?
What Mr. Naughten seems to ignore is the second to last sentence of his own nightmare, one that has nothing to do with headphones and everything to do with cultural changes that precede the iPod “moving from one retail opportunity to another.” This is fast becoming the sum total of our public spaces--retail opportunities.
...the iPod allows us an escape from the so-called public space.
Scott also addresses my quoting Joni Mitchell: “the more out of tune voices the better.”
I for one would much rather everyone carried around a pair of speakers with their iPod and blasted them at 11 so music became a truly public space. But apparently I am alone in this desire and there are noise ordinances against this sort of thing.
The more out of tune voices the better. That’s what the blogosphere is: a cacaphony of out of tune voices. Even combined, they still sound horrible, and yet, as when the barflies in Rick’s Cafe Americaine burst out in La Marseillaise, there is a beauty in it because of the freedom and passion of individual voices.
I found it interesting that Scott admits to keeping headphones on specifically to ignore people. I would never do that--it lessens the effectiveness. I don’t have noise-canceling headphones, just the standard iPod earbuds. I can hear you. I can hear conversations, traffic, even the damn musak at the supermarket. If the musak is too loud, I have to remove the headphones; it’s an unsatisfying Solomonic gesture.
Some of the articles Scott references are funny in their own insular way. “a generation lost in its personal space”? That title just screams “I am boomer, hear me whine”. Go sit on a fucking candlestick, ya dork.