iPod People in their own iWorld

Andrew Sullivan writes a commentary (very much aligned with Christine Rosen’s thoughtful essay) about the “iPod people” of New York:

There were little white wires hanging down from their ears, or tucked into pockets, purses or jackets. The eyes were a little vacant. Each was in his or her own musical world, walking to their soundtrack, stars in their own music video, almost oblivious to the world around them. These are the iPod people.

Even without the white wires you can tell who they are. They walk down the street in their own MP3 cocoon, bumping into others, deaf to small social cues, shutting out anyone not in their bubble

I see iPod people every day.

Sullivan again mirror’s Rosen’s thesis with his concern that we’ve created a “society without the social”:

It wouldn’t be so worrying if it weren’t part of something even bigger. Americans are beginning to narrow their lives.

You get your news from your favourite blogs, the ones that won’t challenge your view of the world. You tune into a satellite radio service that also aims directly at a small market — for new age fanatics, liberal talk or Christian rock. Television is all cable. Culture is all subculture. Your cell phones can receive e-mail feeds of your favourite blogger’s latest thoughts — seconds after he has posted them — get sports scores for your team or stock quotes of your portfolio.

Technology has given us a universe entirely for ourselves — where the serendipity of meeting a new stranger, hearing a piece of music we would never choose for ourselves or an opinion that might force us to change our mind about something are all effectively banished.

Atomisation by little white boxes and cell phones. Society without the social. Others who are chosen — not met at random. Human beings have never lived like this before. Yes, we have always had homes, retreats or places where we went to relax, unwind or shut out the world.

But we didn’t walk around the world like hermit crabs with our isolation surgically attached.

Finally, Sullivan correctly points out what we are missing in our iWorld:

But what are we missing? That hilarious shard of an overheard conversation that stays with you all day; the child whose chatter on the pavement takes you back to your early memories; birdsong; weather; accents; the laughter of others. And those thoughts that come not by filling your head with selected diversion, but by allowing your mind to wander aimlessly through the regular background noise of human and mechanical life.

External stimulation can crowd out the interior mind. Even the boredom that we flee has its uses. We are forced to find our own means to overcome it.

And so we enrich our life from within, rather than from white wires.

So far I’ve resisted the urge to get an iPod, telling my fiancee I’d much rather be reading a book on the subway than slipping into semi-consciousness while listening to my favorite music, preferring to “enrich myself from within” rather than escaping into my own iWorld. It remains to be seen how much longer I can resist.

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