Monday, January 25, 2010


I have an i-pod, a personal music player. I appreciate the wonders of technology that allow me to store the music I like on a computer, and then to carry it around much more easily than we used to carry around a suitcase full of cassette tapes. I appreciate being able to plug the music player into the speakers that we have in our kitchen and listen to music while I'm fixing dinner. I appreciate being able to listen to music that I actually enjoy while I'm driving in the car. I even enjoy listening to podcasts while I'm working out at the gym or running around the park.

But it seems to me that there's a downside to personal music players. For instance, today I was getting a quick cup of coffee before driving to a conference. While the barista was pulling my espresso (or at least letting the machine pull my espresso), I noticed some fantastic music coming out of the ceiling speakers. I have no idea who it was, but it was good. I wouldn't even mind having whatever it was on my i-pod. Then, as I was leaving, I noticed someone sitting in the shop, reading a book, his head bobbing to the music coming up the white wire directly into his ears.

He completely didn't hear the house music. I'm sure his own music is great, but what if he missed what he'd been seeking his whole life just because his music had become so very personal. Which compels me to recognize, once again, that for the whole of human history (or at least for the millenia that passed prior to the introduction of the Walkman in 1979), music was a communal experience.

I may be wrong, but it seems obvious to me that we're losing something intangible, but still valuable, as we turn more and more inward as we use our personal music players (and laptop computers, and cell phones, etc.), especially when we use them in public places.

The irony, of course, is that I'm writing this post while using my laptop computer in a public place. I have, however, refrained from listening to my i-pod as I write.


1 comment:

  1. A really good observation, Pr. Matthew. The one thing I'd add is how unfortunate it is that some folks who have the little white things in their ears are still bent on making their personal experience a communal experience for everyone around them...
    I wind up not using my iPod when exercising because usually the house music of the gym is loud enough to overwhelm it and I'd have to blast my own ears to even hear my music. I also don't do it when grocery shopping because I do feel the need to interact with others (if only to say excuse me to get around them) and it feels very off-putting to me to be doing this while stuff is streaming into my ears, yet annoying to be constantly taking them out and putting them in.
    Right now I've got semi-communal music going on... Brent is practicing his viola! (with all the attendant interesting notes!)
    Thanks for your insightful thoughts... I've been enjoying your blog...

    cjbg from BLC