Friday, August 12, 2011

From an Assignment I'm Working On

--for my writing students. It's a "technology memoir," about their use of and relationship with technology. I don't know why I'm posting this other than my blogger's license is about to be revoked for inactivity. So here's my filibuster 'gainst dispersion and silence--

For example, I have been a music fan my whole life. When I was a college freshman, I had a collection of vinyl albums (uh, maybe look that up on Wikipedia?) that took up a lot of space and weighed a lot. If I wanted to take that music with me on a trip out of town or even to the grocery store, my best bet was to make a cassette tape of each album (look that up, too!), which took at least 45 minutes per tape. There were albums I searched for, for years, just because I’d read a review of them. I had no real idea what they sounded like, since there was no way to listen to song samples unless—you already had the album. Most of the music I liked wouldn’t have been played on the radio in a thousand years, and there was no way other than albums, tapes, or radio to hear new music. I skimmed obscure catalogues and zines and drove to faraway towns, hoping to find new, interesting music, and often did. But then I had to order it via US Mail or haul it home with me. Once I heard from a guy who knew a guy who had an album I was looking for; a meeting was set up in his dorm (by word of mouth—there was no text messaging, and the guy I knew wasn’t sure of the other guy’s phone number. Plus, he’d have to be in his dorm room at the exact time we called—there were no cell phones). Somehow we met and the album was mine.

Now I have 75.3 days of music on my iPod. That’s 1807 hours. 1807 hours of music, 23,497 songs, more than 2000 albums; it would take up 20 linear feet of shelf space in vinyl form and weigh about half a ton. But with the iPod I can plug my 23,000 songs into my car stereo, I can take all 23,000 of them anywhere I go, I can listen to them as I wash dishes, I can bring them to work, much to some of my co-workers’ chagrin, much to the delight of others. My 75 days of music take up less space in my pocket than my wallet or my phone. I can get new albums in seconds by clicking a mouse. I can listen to snippets of thousands of albums on the Web and decide if I like them or not. I can do more music shopping in one day than I could do in a year in 1985.

I know we're supposed to interrogate late-capitalist narratives of technologically-mediated identity and critique the notion of progress and all that stuff, but I'm damn grateful for my iPod! 

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