Monday, October 23, 2006

Happy Birthday, iPod!

Today's the fifth anniversary of the iPod's public debut. Mine's sitting in front of me right now, playing Dizzy Gillespie (who would have been 89 years old on Saturday) while I take a break from reading another grant proposal.

To commemorate the birthday of the symbol of the decade, the L.A. Times (reg. required) yesterday ran an excerpt from Steven Levy's new book on the iPod and the culture it is spawning. It's a good read, since Levy's very good at teasing out the social implications of the device. He writes that if you are among the iPod owners, you

are tethered to one of the 60 million — and counting fast — iPod music players sold by Apple Computer in the last five years. And though it may seem you are doing it simply because you like the music and are pleased by the award-winning industrial design, you can congratulate yourself for participating in something a lot bigger than the tiny iPod: a revolution that has helped topple the idea that record labels, studios and broadcasters should set the terms for how and when you entertain yourself. Instead, Apple's ubiquitous gadget has ushered in the era of shuffle.
He takes this "shuffle" metaphor a bit too far by contending that the shuffle function,
reflects the experience that the Internet offers in other categories. Instead of buying an entire newspaper, you can cherry-pick articles from a vast virtual newsstand (shuffle the news!); instead of being stuck with the offerings in a department store or mall, you can engage in a focused global shopping spree in which even the most obscure goods are a mouse click away (shuffle the shopping!). And instead of being stuck in the covers of a book, or the contents of your local research library, Google promotes the prospect of typing in a few words in a search field and getting page after page or relevant results from books, videos, research reports and Web pages (shuffle all of human knowledge!).
This seems like a random shuffle of examples, so Levy changes course to bring it home effectively:
Almost buried in the news of Google's $1.65-billion recent purchase of the YouTube video site was the announcement that several studios and record labels (including Universal, Warner Bros. and CBS) have inked new arrangements with YouTube that not only allow the service to stream their copyright-protected music and videos, but even allow the masses to use that closely protected content in their own uploaded camcorder vignettes. YouTube, whose "schedule" is determined by searching, random browsing or social networking, presents a view of television that is pure a la carte … pure shuffle. It's a child of the iPod. And so are we.
I'll bet the book's worth a few hours of reading this fall.