Saturday, December 1, 2007

An Album Person In A Shuffle World

For an early birthday present I got an iPod Touch. I was a little nervous, because I had very high expectations of the iPod Touch. But I needn't have worried: it's everything I had dreamed of and more, in the pleasure department.

One area the iPod Touch is a little not-perfect is: you don't really want to bring it to the gym. I mean, the entire front is made of glass. And for some perverse reason all the good cases want to leave the glass "accessible" - which I understand, since it's a touch screen, but at the same time, it's glass. You'd like to have the option of covering it up.

I eventually found this so puzzling, I decided to buy another iPod just for the gym: an iPod Shuffle. Cheap, tiny, clips on your shirt. The woman at the Apple Store said if you accidentally put it in the washing machine it will probably be fine when it dries out. At first I was like, "put it in the washing machine"? but after I used it I understood. It's clipped onto your clothes. You might forget.

Anyway, great solution. The only thing is, the iPod Shuffle is designed to, you know, shuffle. It has randomness built in at several stages. You don't have to use it that way, but that's its basic idea.

And, you know, I think before I bought this item, I had never actually shuffled. Anything. I started listening to music when the album was the basic unit, and I fell hard for that approach, and that's how I listen to music.

I have all the same old tired opinions as other people about the greatness of albums:

1) If you listen linearly, the songs you end up liking best are not the songs you end up liking first. That's cool.

2) You get the song-order emblazoned on your mind, so you have certain pleasures of anticipation and remembrance along with your pleasure of now.

3) Maybe you get some sense of the album as a concept -- though this one has never weighed big with me.

Supporting these well-worn points is new research showing that you become more attached to things you have no options about. Some marketers discovered that if you weren't allowed to return something, you were much more satisfied with it than if you were allowed to return it.

This last I think partly explains my long-term preference for TV over video, for radio in general, for music that just comes at you (as Captain C and I were discussing earlier). Thinking it over, though, I realized that in some ways the shuffle gives you that: it gives you an order you can't refuse. I mean, you can click past but you have to encounter the song.

Good, right? Except it isn't, really. I then realized that another part of the charm of the album, the TV, the radio, is the sense of its simply being that way, and being encountered by you. I love the feeling with the radio that this is what's on. Everyone who is tuned in is encountering it the same way. You're having the same experience as a bunch of strangers. At the same time.

It's why it's so much more fun to do today's crossword puzzle than just any crossword puzzle. It's why TV is fun, why flipping channels is fun. Who would flip prerecorded video?

This is an essential part of album listening. Everyone who listens to an album has the same anticipatory pleasures, the same mood shifts as the song goes from one to another. And it's why I don't like to shuffle.

It's OK. You can just load up the Shuffle with songs in order, and listen to them that way. Which is what I'm doing. But is this the aesthetic equivalent of dinosaur behavior?

In trying to find a good case for my iPod Touch, I googled, and I came across this:
No sooner do we get word that some Apple Stores have the iPod Touch in stock do we find some unboxing pictures (via our sister blog, Engadget). The pictures aren't the best but it will give you a good idea of what comes in the box (here's a hint: other than the iPod, not much. Am I the only one that misses the days when you got lots of stuff with your iPod? I feel like an old man, 'In my day iPods came with docks! And they had a FireWire port! And they were Mac only! You kids with your iPods and your touching.').

"You kids with your iPods and your touching!" That cracked me up.

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