The iPod has changed the way we listen to music as a culture. It has become the icon of the new century. Newsweek editor Steven Levy writes in this article that a 2005 survey would report that the iPod is even more popular on college campuses than beer. That’s pretty popular. Having come somewhat lately to the iPod party I was merely an observer to this phenomenon over the last few year but now that I’m one of “those people” I have to admit that the iPod has changed the way I listen.
While my iPod is only a few months old I have been an iTunes user for quite a while. I discovered the joys of party shuffle a long time ago and find it especially good for working. No longer do I have to think about what I want to listen to when I work. I just turn on party shuffle and I get a steady stream of Bob radio. One of the reasons I waited to get an iPod was because I wasn’t sure I’d use it. I was quite wrong. I use it when I grade papers and when I read at home. I find a nice corner of the house, pop in my earbuds and I’m ready to go. I used to have music on the stereo but that meant that others had to listen to what I wanted. Now I don’t bother anyone. I also listen in bed when I’m up in the middle of the night or when I wake up too early. The bad news is that I’ve been awake in the middle of the night a lot lately but I have found that listening to my iPod is a great way to not “just lie there” and get frustrated because I’m “just lying there”. So, even if that was the only benefit I’d be a pretty happy iPod user.
But the best thing is that I’m listening to music again. Don’t get me wrong, I never stopped listening but now, with earbuds, I’m really listening. The iPod allows me to tune in to what’s on in the music and hear things I never heard before. (Aqualung’s album, Strange and Beautiful is a great example of this. Thanks, Meredith, for pointing that out to me.) The other part, though, is that with shuffle mode I never know what I’m going to get. This means that much of my time is now spent listening to tracks instead of albums. (I still play complete CDs in the car, however.) I find that I can appreciate some songs much better if I don’t have the whole album around it. Then when I do get the song in the context of the whole album I enjoy it all the more. Plus the surprise of what comes next is always fun. Since I only have a 1 GB nano I have figured out a way of having it randomly load music from the 14 GB collection on my computer. I do, however, load some complete albums and those songs come up more often so I get to hear a random selection with a generous helping of new material – how cool is that?
So, while I agree that the iPod might mark the beginning of the end of the album as an artform, something I will truly regret, I really enjoy being surprised by the juxtaposition of new artists and new songs when I don’t expect it. I like being able to just “listen to music” instead of having to choose a particular album (which I sometimes still do on my iPod.) But most of all, I like that I have found a new way to enjoy some of the music I’ve loved for decades.