Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

The deep meaning of the iPod shuffle feature

From Alex Ross’ essay, "Listen to This," in the latest New Yorker:

I have seen the future, and it is called Shuffle—the setting on the iPod that skips randomly from one track to another…. There is something thrilling about setting the player on Shuffle and letting it decide what to play next.

Sometimes its choices are a touch delirious—I had to veto an attempt to forge a link between György Kurtág and Oasis—but the little machine often goes crashing through barriers of style in ways that change how I listen. For example, it recently made a segue from the furious crescendo of “The Dance of the Earth,” ending Part I of “The Rite of Spring,” right into the hot jam of Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues." The first became a gigantic upbeat to the other.  For a second, I felt that I was at some madly fashionable party at Carl Van Vechten’s. [Ed: But who hasn’t had that feeling, frankly?]

On the iPod, music is freed from all fatuous self-definitions and delusions of significance. There are no record jackets depicting bombastic Alpine scenes or celebrity conductors with a family resemblance to Rudolf Hess. Instead, music is music.

It seems to me that a lot of younger listeners think the way the iPod thinks. They are no longer so invested in a single genre, one that promises to mold their being or save the world. This gives the life-style disaster called “classical music” more of a chance….

Update: This great essay has inspired me to play around with the shuffle feature myself, with good results.

Update 1/12/2005: The thread on iPod, the shuffle, and interesting ways to listen to music continues in:

[To the tune of Kate Bush, "Deeper Understanding," from the album The Sensual World.]

1 Comment

  1. That’s like the next step from this conversation I overheard at my husband’s band’s most recent show:

    “What kind of music do you think this is?”
    “Ummm…who cares? They’re fun!”
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: I Shuffle Therefore I Am
    URL: http://agitprop.typepad.com/agitprop_version_20/2005/08/i_shuffle_there.html
    IP: 127.0.0.1
    BLOG NAME: Agitprop: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Propaganda
    DATE: 08/12/2005 07:57:55 AM
    Relevant History details the virtues of utilizing the shuffle feature on one’s iPod. I happen to think that the shuffle feature is rigged. Why are some songs more likely to pop up than others? Is there some sort of ranking?
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: The headless iMac rides again
    URL: http://bloggable.ideasalon.org/2004/04/10/15.30.51/index.php
    IP: 67.18.181.68
    BLOG NAME: Bloggable
    DATE: 02/01/2005 09:56:34 PM
    Whether you’re interested in the “headless” iMac, synching your Palm OS handheld to your Mac, a critique of OS X from a usability writer, OmniWeb’s latest and greatest beta, MacWorld Boston and a keynote from Jack from As the Apple Turns, or the 20th a…
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: Practice to product
    URL: http://Blogger.iftf.org/Future/000698.html
    IP: 64.157.92.82
    BLOG NAME: IFTF’s Future Now
    DATE: 01/27/2005 01:41:51 AM
    My iPod erased itself over the weekend, so I took it into my local Apple Store, the one on University Avenue that Steve supposedly appears in from time to time. Of course I wanted to get it fixed, but I also wanted a look at the new iPod Shuffle, about…
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: Practice to product
    URL: http://Blogger.iftf.org/Future/000698.html
    IP: 64.157.92.82
    BLOG NAME: IFTF’s Future Now
    DATE: 01/18/2005 10:52:16 AM
    My iPod erased itself over the weekend, so I took it into my local Apple Store, the one on University Avenue that Steve supposedly appears in from time to time. Of course I wanted to get it fixed, but I also wanted a look at the new iPod Shuffle, about…
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: Practice to product
    URL: http://Blogger.iftf.org/Future/000698.html
    IP: 64.157.92.82
    BLOG NAME: IFTF’s Future Now
    DATE: 01/16/2005 05:41:39 PM
    My iPod erased itself over the weekend, so I took it into my local Apple Store, the one on University Avenue that Steve supposedly appears in from time to time. Of course I wanted to get it fixed, but I also wanted a look at the new iPod Shuffle, about…
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: random is the new order
    URL: http://www.fredshouse.net/archive/000323.html
    IP: 67.117.138.116
    BLOG NAME: fredshouse.net
    DATE: 01/12/2005 03:39:52 AM
    So apple announces the iPod shuffle. And thanks to Alex, fredshouse is currently something like the #3 result on google for “ipod shuffle”. Heh, well, that’ll be changing….
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: random is the new order
    URL: http://www.fredshouse.net/archive/000323.html
    IP: 67.117.138.116
    BLOG NAME: fredshouse.net
    DATE: 01/12/2005 03:36:56 AM
    So apple announces the iPod shuffle. And thanks to Alex, fredshouse is currently something like #3 on google for “ipod shuffle”. Heh, well, that’ll be changing….

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