Chance Encounter

The new iPod has no screen and plays songs randomly. How does it feel to be a hostage?

"I'm Ready,"
Cherie

I'm taking this class and there's this sorority girl? And every day she wanders into class with an iPod Mini on her hip, talking to her friend about whether they're going to the gym later? All the while with the white-corded earbuds dangled insouciantly over her shoulder? And she looks like the kind of person for whom everything has gone right, and though I am older and ostensibly wiser, I want to crush her? Via shopping?


"Shannon Stone"
Go Home Productions

Who wouldn't want to be a dancing silhouette?


"Alright Alright (Here's My Fist Where's the Fight?)"
Sahara Hotnights

I had thought about getting the 500-meg model, which, because it costs a hundred bucks, I call "the hooker." But instead I went for the full gigabyte version. The Shuffle is designed to function like the flash drive it resembles; it can be set to store data as well. If the mood struck, you could store an entire disc of CD-quality tracks, dump them onto every computer you got next to. It's like they want you to steal music. I call this model "the pirate." Apple might as well package it with a hook and a parrot.


"1, 2 Step"
Ciara

That's all. Just the pleasure of this song.


"Scream If You Wanna Go Faster"
Geri Halliwell

I am not impressed with how small it is. I mean, it's tiny, pack of gum, woo-hoo. Listen, buddy, we've had, like, the smartest guys on the planet, armed with budgets that could resolve the third-world debt, working on this for decades. Music players should be small enough to inject behind my ear, and I should be able to operate them by blinking. In fact, it remains unclear to me why they have to be things at all. That's just a scam to keep the nanotech guys employed. Songs should be beamed into my head from a geo-sync satellite the size of a cat, and I should be able to select among 'em with my thoughts. If you believe this won't happen in your lifetime, you had better be over 60. Or perhaps you're a tool of the nanotechnicians?


"Memory Lane"
Elliott Smith

I'm Shuffling down the avenue when I run into Colin. "You got one," he says. This is what you say. The thing is a conversation starter, though the conversations are insanely limited. "Yesterday I saw a billboard for it on the way into the city," he says, excitedly. "It says 'Give Chance a Chance!' " We agree this is a clever slogan, and banter about how "peace" inevitably becomes "chance" over time.


"I Want to With You"
Leann Rimes

It's an oblong of white plastic that reminds me a little irrationally of the obelisk at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, rendered small enough to dangle around the neck. It's mysterious and charged with futurity. It doesn't tell you what song is playing or what's next or much else. That's the thing. As a result, each song fades out with a frisson—what'll be next? This experience is basically what the device sells. Not "shuffle"—everyone's computer and chunky iPod Paper-weight already offer that. The point here is, only that. You left your choices at home. You're hostage to what's coming, and the risk that it might suck. And this makes the day gleam, a little. Contingency, the ancients called it.


"Drop"
Timbaland and Magoo

But the next song doesn't suck. Over and over it turns out to be a song I really like. This makes sense because I chose all the songs now being shuffled and, for the most part, I like the songs that I like. Each time one comes on, each time I dodge the bullet of Creed or Sage Francis—which of course could never actually strike me because they don't exist in my library—I think something like, "My taste rules."


"Goodies (Richard X remix feat. M.I.A.)"
Ciara

The absence of any display is a void into which one might fall for quite some time. We need do nothing but give chance a chance. Voilà, the soundtrack of our days. In making our own taste the sole object of aesthetic regard—ecce curator—we're the artists, us and hazard. Apple, the company that made single-song sales work for the digital age, is wagering that individual tracks, arranged by a consumer's affinities, are the shape of things to come. The display screen is missing because it has only one thing to say, anyway: The album is dead.


"Jesus on a Greyhound"
Shelby Lynne

I walk past a homeless-looking guy and we stare at each other. His body is covered with the traces of his daily life, stains on his thrashed sweatshirt, red splotches on his cheeks. This is a chance encounter, the other contingency. For a second I think I am thinking about him, how very empathetic of me, but behind that I am wondering what he thinks of me, a de-bodied body with my technology worn outside my clothes for all the honest world to feel. One of the many possible voices starts inside my head: But, but, it was only 150 bucks! It's not like I'm some big executive. I'm just some guy, I have my own problems. It occurs to me that this is the core of what's always disturbed me about therapy: It's the little world that turns around one's own problems and lets you off the hook of this particular encounter, despite any lip service otherwise. Because in fact, despite my daily interior monologue of sorrow and rage, my problems compared to his are minuscule and/or fake. The things I think he thinks when he sees me, Shuffle rampant: basically true.

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