About a month ago one of my students wrote an essay called “Against the iPod Culture,” in which he argued that the iPod poisons the listener by allowing music to become merely background or a soundtrack-to-life. He believes that music ought to be listened to with full attention, or not at all. Moreover, he believes that the iPod reinforces bad habits of not-paying-attention already rampant in our troubled republic. It is a(nother) distraction machine. In a memorable phrase, he said that he had looked into the eyes of iPod users and “found them blank”.
Curiously, during the same week, I was unwrapping my own iPod. Though I began in a frenzy of shuffling, song-switching, and genre-hopping, I have settled down, for the most part, to listening to whole songs at a time, even whole albums (I still call them albums) at a time. While I do use my iPod to provide background to dish-washing, I also use it to listen intently to music I have heard many times before. The iPod seems to me not unlike other digital music technologies: it doesn’t change the nature of my attention, it foments the variety of listening habits I already possessed. I am not convinced by my student’s argument that the iPod is the downfall of civilization, but I’ve been wrong before.