The readings can be found here and here.
I was once told that the iPod is a kind of drug, in that it causes the listener to achieve a state of euphoria or happiness, simply because each song is (potentially) a favourite. In other words, there are no mediocre songs on someone’s iPod. There is the potential that one will simply continue to listen to favourites throughout the day.
Michael Bull calls this kind of state a “zone of immunity,” to use Richard Sennett’s term for the place of the church in Western civilization.
“The church, in Sennett’s argument, created a zone of ‘immunity’ for the citizen, an ordered space in which the subject could feel secure. Today this zone of immunity and security is a mobile one existing between the ears of iPod users as they move through the city--enveloped in what they imagine to be their own reality, each holding Apple iPods--twenty-first century icon and acoustic metaphor for much urban life.” (Iconic Designs 108)
The interesting thing is that the design of the iPod has evolved over time. The key to the iPod's success is twofold. It is an issue of space, that one could now conceivably put their complete collection of music on something small enough to fit in their hand. It is also an issue of user interface, a way to access that music.
The scroll wheel is the key - first, the click wheel, a combination of moving parts and buttons. Next, touch sensitive, solid state, no more clicking or buttons. Finally, a combination of solid state touch sensitive and clicking for play/pause, next/back, etc. The interface becomes simpler for the user as it becomes more technologically complex.
The aesthetic design of the iPod is something which is often overlooked in terms of its allure. Many would talk about its domination in the marketplace, or the problems with its ties to specific software (iTunes). Not many discuss what I think is its main strength - its appearance. Its design is what draws me to it - its clean lines, the materials that make it up. The way it looks in the dark (the 3rd Gen iPod is what this last part is referring to).
Bull calls the iPod a “perfect marriage between aesthetics and functionality, of sound and touch--the auditory world in the palm of the hand.” (105) It comes to market at a time of increasing mobility and privatization - this is, in fact, not a new thing.
Bull seems to equate an iPod with the Gothic cathedral: “The populace invariably went into these spaces not merely to pray but to enter envelopes of sound resounding through their bodies, amplified by the great arches of the cathedral.” (106) Back to the iPod, now that people were free from the constraints of radio, those sonic envelopes “exist in the personal playlist of the iPod.” He also considers the idea of your whole music collection fitting in the palm of your hand a magical one. (107) This is interesting. This is something that was never possible in the past.
The iPod is, in fact, intoxicating: “an intoxicating mixture of music, proximity and privacy whilst on the move.” (No Dead Air 344) iPod users might use the device as a way to inhabit the spaces within which they move, a creation of a “privatised auditory bubble,” a means to control time and space through which they move.
Consider what Bull writes on the bottom of pg. 346.
As opposed to thinking that the iPod destroys community or creates isolation, Bull suggests that “music enables users to clear a space for thought, imagination and miid maintenance.” (349) For Bull, the choice of music by the listener enables a form of “biological travelling,” that the narrative of the listener’s life is recalled in the current space of travelling, thus making their journey one that is more personal.
“The world and their biography is recollected and accompanied by sound.” (349)
The world becomes “intimate, known, and possessed.” (350) - the world around them seem to work in tandem with the music (this isn’t actually happening, but it seems like it might magically be).
The city dweller is able to reorganise the sounds of the city. (352)
“the city becomes a personalised audio visual environment, yet even the sense of touch and the concomitant [naturally accompanying] relational experience of the street is transformed, invariably making the iPod user happier as they move, empowered through the street.” (352)
What do you think of Bull's idea of dancing through a crowd, instead of struggling? Does the iPod still hold such cultural cache as Bull suggested it did in 2005 and 2006?