Thursday, February 24, 2005


Andrew Sullivan is the latest person to highlight the emerging "iPod Nation." Andrew wonders if the apparent increase of people choosing to live in the isolation of their own hyper-personalized space {iPod playlists; cable television; satellite radio, the blogosphere} is a bad thing. Will it result in the destruction of the commons and our ability to exist in a social context? Valid questions, these, and I admit to extrapolating a little on whether this is Andrew's intent. (Andrew's regular blog can be found here.) Regardless, the meme is definitely out there. I wonder, though, if the "threat" is overblown. Firstly, the blossoming of white headphones only informs us of the brand of personal experience the observed masses are participating in. (In this case, Apple's iPod experience.) Who's to say the number or demographic is any different than those who may have been using any other type of device prior to their iPod purchase? These are people who will behave in a similarly detached manner regardless of the type of audio they choose to channel into their headsets. The white headphones is a hollow indicator, then. Furthermore, is the trend accelerating? What evidence exists that the urge to personalize our space is accelerating beyond what was probably decried at the advent of the original Walkman? The portable CD player? (Hell, transistor radios for that matter?)

[SIDEBAR: For as long as there's been music there's been people customizing their personal music experience. Who (amongst my generational peers) can forget their first mix tape? Perhaps all the iPod is accomplishing is the commensurate steepening of the personalization curve that comes with lowering the barriers of entry to personalization?]

We live in a society that treasures individual choice. Why is the trend towards the increased exercise of that right so menacing? Won't our heightened ability to customize more and more of our heretofore communal experience result in new and exciting ways of fostering community? Are we not seeing the first fruits of such communities in such game changing services as flickr,, Amazon and NetFlix -not to mention Apple's own iTunes- with their abilities to share or recommend? Vive la difference! Change is coming, but its not the cataclysm (says I) pundits may be scaring us with.

Corey Doctorow's latest book, Eastern Standard Tribe, consciously fueled this essay. Go get a copy for yourself. It's free!

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