Today I passed 1,000 songs on my iPod. It's well behind a lot of you, I know, but still, four digits has to mean something.
And it figures - that I'd hit that milestone just the day after Andrew Sullivan wrote this. iPods are a sign of much greater isolation and much reduced social interaction, he argues. "What is happening to serendipity," as he said on his blog about this, referring to how when you have those little white things in your ears your chances of bumping into someone you know and having a pleasant conversation are tiny, and your chances of meeting someone new practically nonexistent. And yes, that's me. I'm almost never without the thing on my belt, even if the speakers aren't in my ears at the moment.
What do I think of this? As an introvert (I had a thought about that word, I'll try to write more on it some time), it's a smaller change for me than for some people.
First of all, the iPods and their popularity aren't the cause or this situation, or even a cause. Either they're a symptom or they share a cause with it, which would be technological growth, but the iPods aren't why people are isolated, the fact that isolation and compartmentalization is so widespread is how iPods were able to become as popular as they are.
More generally, I think this is a real trend rather than just a fad - Sullivan points out to isolation touching other aspects of life - but I think it's completely impossible to say already exactly how big it is, or how bad it is - if at all.
Because think about it. In a lot of ways, people are just generally conservative. Change is bad, at least until you've already found your place in it, and quite possibly for a long time after. What Sullivan is saying here is no doubt very similar to things that were written about cars when they were new, or women voting when it was still being debated or lots of other sweeping changes of society that were seen as the end of the world at the time but are now seen as great improvements. Hell, he compares the isolation of an iPod to the isolation of an individual's private home, now being carried around attached to their head - but personally, I'm glad we aren't living in longhouses or other communal dwellings any more, aren't you?
I mean, take a look at the other side of this - ten years from now when the technology is much cheaper, no teen will ever be made fun of again for liking classical music, you'll be able to carry around "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" (in audiobook form) in the palm of your hand, and when (or if) a music industry model evolves that doesn't give huge markups to the record labels, you'll get entire collections both legitimately and cheaply. What's wrong with that?
As Sullivan says, it's definitely happening. But whether it's good or bad won't be decided for decades. If ever.