T9’s Freudian slips

Wheels within wheels

In a technological version of the Russian nesting doll, some hipsters have created the RetroPod — an old-skool Sports Walkman that’s been renovated to house a regular Ipod. Presto: You can enjoy all the 10,000-song pleasures of a digital-age media player, while rocking a soi-disant vibe of early-80s steampunk chic. No, I can’t believe I wrote that last sentence either.

Actually, what this brings to mind is my long-standing rant about the Ipod. For those who’ve never suffered through this dreary and dubious argument, you can read previous versions of it here and here.
The gist of is that I suspect the vast majority of people never really listen to more than a fraction of the music on their Ipod in any given one-month period. As researchers have found, they just listen to the same album or playlist over and over and over again until, weeks later, they finally get sick of it and pick a new one. If that’s true, why does anyone actually bother buying a $500, 349-gig Ipod? Why not just stick with a Walkman?

Because it’s got nothing to do with utility. It’s about snobbery: It’s a signal to the world that you are a true music aficionado, the type who wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without having thousands of songs at your beck and call. The Ipod helps preserve this illusion — even if you’ve secretly had Avril Lavigne on infinite loop for the last three weeks.

It’s possible that the new world of gazillion-gig media players — and the omnipresence of “shuffle” — will change listening habits in the long run, as some have suggested. But it’s also possible that we have an innate apetite for repetition. Perhaps most of us are predisposed to listen to the same few songs over and over until we abruptly tire of them.

That’s why I find the RetroPod so charming. It neatly embodies the contradictions of our digital age: A media player that has the capabilties of the computer, but which we use pretty much the same way we used a Walkman.

(Thanks to Gizmodo for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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