Saturday, February 26, 2005

An iPod Defense

My cousin wrote to me the other day about my iPod post. Here is some of what she said:

I find it funny that you'll "wait until these devices come down in
price or improve in features"--is that your real objection then, despite
what you say in your post about technology disconnecting us from
each other? . . . I heartily agree with Andrew Sullivan and his thoughts about where
this new, individualized technology is leading us. At a time in our
history when we need to reach out to others more than ever with
understanding and openness, it is unnerving to see the direction we
are heading. Unless the "improved features" include a mute button, I'd
wait a long while before taking the iPod plunge.

This is how I replied:

I believe that I ended my column against the evils of iPods the incongruous way I did largely as an expression of subtle if not silly humor—i.e., it’s such a harmful device that I’m going to wait until the price drops to buy one and become a zombie. But I also believe that an iPod, like most inventions, is neither good nor bad in itself, but only in relation to how it’s used. How would I use one?

I would put most of my CD collection on it and, more importantly, my growing library of recorded lectures and discussions about philosophy, spirituality, science, art, politics, and so forth. I could then easily access any of this wonderful wealth of material anytime and anywhere I wished. Sometimes I might do it at home by plugging my iPod into my home hi-fi system. Other times, I could take it to my business technology class and use it during the first hour while I’m practicing my touch typing skills, or listen in the car for the forty minutes before my medical terminology class, or while taking a morning walk, or while I’m browsing books and magazines in the library or the bookstore. Or I could play a selected lecture or musical piece for my mother or friends when I go to visit them. Would I take my iPod with me and use it everywhere I went and constantly isolate myself from the world of birdsong and children’s laughter and social interaction? Hardly. But there are times and places where I think I could put an iPod to excellent use not only as a way to enjoy and enrich myself, but also as a means of sharing and connecting with others.

Yet, right now these devices are still too expensive and, from what I understand, flawed for me to buy one. I might never buy one no matter what. But I think a case can be made that they aren’t all bad, and I suspect that even Andrew Sullivan would agree. After all, I believe that he still has and uses his. Maybe he just uses it a little more judiciously.

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