Chance Encounter

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

"Wild World"
Skye Sweetnam

The new essays about how iPods provide channels for community are as vacant as the old essays about how Walkmen were factories of isolation and alienation. Technological advance dictates that the desires to be connected to other people, and the sometimes conflicting desires to be lovin' you some Top 40, will grow increasingly portable. That's neither good nor bad, it's just inevitable. The tech that "lets" you work while in a café—the digital abstraction and transmission of data—is the exact same tech that lets you rip songs onto an MP3 player while you're "posting to your blog," which, let's be honest, sounds like slang for the solitary pleasures. If there's a meaningful advance in the Shuffle, it's not regarding alienation or connection but technologies of narcissism. It asks you to delight in your own excellent sensibilities every three minutes. It asks you to look at yourself and admire.

"19-2000 (Soulchild Remix)"

Last summer I saw a lot of French-African kids wearing music players on lanyards around their necks, light gray devices and dark skin. The iConic image of the Shuffle is a parody of this, or a wish image: perfectly white device hanging on an empty black body. And it's incredibly appealing. I'm disembodied just like hyper-modernity always promised me; only the commodity speaks. Finally, I am too rich and too thin.

"Extensive Care"

It occurs to me that, when I am very old, I can tell people I meet in bars that I was one of those dancers in the iPod commercials. Who could say I wasn't?


Lacking a screen to communicate with me, it speaks on my behalf, look at me, look at me.

Joshua Clover's most recent book is The Matrix (British Film Institute, 2005). He hasn't been interested in the self since 1989.

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