May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
Ask a few 18 to 24 year olds in the United States and they may have difficulty remembering a world before the iPod. There are Facebook pages and blog entries of users that claim that their iPod can read their mind. I don’t think there is an app for that…yet. The Cult of the iPod may claim that it ‘revolutionized’ the music industry. There was nothing original or revolutionary about the iPod’s technology, but it struck a chord with consumers and managed to change their expectations of how they use technology. The iPod further extends the places where consumers can listen to music and reinforces the relationship consumers have with music.
The iPod wasn’t the first personal mobile music player; that distinction goes to the Sony Walkman. In 1979, Sony’s portable audio cassette playing device was marketed as the Walkman. It was the first device to enable consumers to play their own audio cassettes and listen through headphones. A consumer’s playlist could be customized to play for any duration as long as the audio cassette. The cultural icon of the mix tape was popular in this era, but that would be another essay. Listeners’ selections of music were limited to what they can carry. Marketing for the Walkman was similar to ads for the iPod: youthful, active, and independent.
Before billions of songs were downloaded from iTunes and before it was the ‘must have’ gadget the iPod was released with little fanfare in the fall of 2001. Steve Jobs pulled out of his front pocket, the white device the size of a deck of cards that could hold 1,000 songs. Early critics were quick to bring up that the iPod was only compatible with 5% of computers on the market. The controversy of Napster’s ‘file sharing’ and illegal downloading music files in mp3 file format brought that controversy to light. The music industry was in denial but Steve Jobs could already see the writing on the wall and saw the future of how consumers bought their music.
The greatest contribution the iPod made to the technology industry is that it changed consumers’ expectations of how they interface with electronic products. At the time that the iPod was released to the market in the fall of 2001, mp3 players were more complicated to use. Gadget geeks that understood how these devices worked were the only consumers that had mp3 players because they were designed primarily as file storing devices. Like the Mac PC, Apple’s strength in the market was the niche it had in creating operating systems and software that was more intuitive for a consumer so that they didn’t need to understand how they work. The following spring Apple rolled out iTunes, Apple’s own site for consumers to download music, further adding to the user friendliness of their products. Early critics were quick to bring up that the iPod was only compatible with 5% of computers on the market. The Apple company model was to create the software to be intuitively used on their hardware. The iPod and all of their consumer products are designed for the consumer. Microsoft and other software designers were writing software for other software designers or for utilitarian applications in business. Since then Apple has shifted from being a computer and software maker to a consumer electronics maker and iTunes the largest online music store.
In Chapter 6 of Michael Bull’s Sound Moves: iPod Culture and Urban Experience he compares iPods and mobile phones. Bull describes them as “tethering devices” to be able to artificially create intimacy and continuous sources of communication. Incoming calls interrupt and blur the lines between personal and professional life. Instead the iPod can create continuity. The use of the iPod allows the user to add a soundtrack of selected music to their daily lives through their environments from their personal life through their commute and in public spaces. The listener can craft the soundtrack of his or her life; this is true. However they use this illusion to create intimacy in public places in their own bubble. When iPod users put on the ubiquitous white earbuds, it’s as if they say “I can’t see you” in the way that the toddler puts his hands over his eyes and says “You can’t see me!” They feel empowered, in control, and self-contained turning public spaces into private spaces. Apple’s commodification of the need for privacy to city and ex-urb commuters may not have been intentional but it has led to their success. With long commutes, consumers are left with this time that isn’t their own, that isn’t personal time and yet they aren’t paid for that time.
People dread time, and so they invent a compensatory metaphysics of time because they blame time for the fact that in a reified world they no longer feel alive. This is what music talks them out of. It confirms the society it entertains. The colour of the inner sense, the bright detailed imagery of the flow of time, assures a man that within the monotony of universal comparability there is still something particular. (Adorno, 1976: p. 48.)
Although iPods and iPhones now have GPS and applications blurring the lines and expectations of what a device can do, iPods are music listening devices. In many ways, pop music has become part of our language, a short hand between each other:
turning them as listeners into participants, it [music] contributes ideologically to the integration which modern society never tires of achieving in reality… It creates an illusion of immediacy in a totally mediated world…to feel a chill of unmitigated struggle of all against all. (Horkheimer & Adorno, 1973: p. 46.)
Consumers primarily buy the music marketed to them. As with taste, everyone believes he or she has the best taste in music. Others find pride in being ahead of the trend in discovering the new ‘it’ band or having the most eclectic taste in music. Consumers look at the ranking of the most popular songs to buy on iTunes. Wagner’s dream of the Total Artwork has given way to the “Transmedia” model with iTunes. Take a look at Glee on the Fox network. If you’ve been under a rock…it’s a TV musical show revolving around the glee club of a high school in Ohio. They are a group of misfits that are united by their love of music and performing. Every week they have some comical interactions highlighting their underdog status at the school reinforced by a new arrangement or “interpretation” of pop song. One of the more popular episodes had a Madonna theme. So now after watching the show you can purchase cast recordings from the TV show on iTunes along with the episode itself to be viewed later. While you are logged on the Fox website you can by merchandise inspired by the show and read more information about the misfit that seems to know the consumer’s own experiences.
The iPod will be around for some time longer with new models released every year. It hasn’t revolutionized the music industry or our culture but it has become interwoven into our culture. The iPod’s evolution has become part of other trends in the economy as well as technology.
May 15, 2011 § Leave a comment
There has been a lot of buzz about SlutWalks organized in Canada and the US. In April Toronto’s held a SlutWalk, a march of women dressed in “provocative clothing” marching against sexual violence. The event was a reaction to remark by a police officer in Canada who reportedly advised women “to avoid dressing as sluts.”
To a woman in the Western world, it’s absurd that women provoke rape or sexual harassment by dressing a certain way. Yet this is behind the reasoning for the burqa and the face veils traditional to some Muslim countries. Women cover their faces and entire bodies in loose clothing to avoid arousing men with their form. The French have banned the face vein because of the misogynist cultural attitude of traditional Muslim society in the interest of empowering women to have their own identity and freedom.
In the West, we have our own issues to tackle. I’ve only ever heard women use the word “slut” to demean another woman. As women, we need to treat each other with more respect. We are very quick to judge each other, it’s one of the first words we use. We can blame patriarchal society, but it’s up to us as women to treat each other with respect. I woman’s sexual history or assumptions of it, is not the business of other people-male or female.
May 6, 2011 § Leave a comment
Individuals like the character Poppy, from Mike Leigh’s film, Happy-Go-Lucky, are easy to peg as slackers or idiots because of their easy-going, light approach to life. Poppy isn’t a slacker or an idiot, far from it. Poppy chooses to be happy-go-lucky. Throughout the film you see her interactions with other people who misunderstand her or form opinions on her that are faulty. She has fun, the fun we all think we can have if we cared less about the little trappings of society.
Watching Poppy’s interactions with other people you see that the people around her project their own preoccupations on perceptions and appearances on her. Her sisters do this to her. At the same time she doesn’t judge those less happy-go-lucky around her. She pokes a little at them but she doesn’t harass them or hurt them. She approached her bullied student with compassion and even sees a little of that bullied little boy in Scott, her driving instructor.
She seems to make a special case of Scott. He reminds her of the rearview mirror and the “all seeing eye” with his mantra “En Ra Ha!” He is wound up pretty tight, she pokes him a bit but isn’t mean-spirited. He is clearly more disturbed by her happy-go-lucky attitude than she is by his high-strung personality. She catches him in this odd moment loitering around her apartment. He later insists that he was out-of-town when she confronts him about it. He works himself up over the boots she wears for the driving lessons. He even works himself up over the behavior and lifestyles of other students. His character is a little sad, pathetic…I want to laugh at him, but it seems cruel. She never does. Even in the argument scene near the end of the film, she was concerned for him. The challenge each other’s world view. Sometimes the student has a lesson for the teacher.