Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Living a plugged in life

I own a memory stick, which doubles as a rudimentary i-Pod thingy (you can go forward and back but flick through an index to the one you want, or a particular play list). This is my one concession to gadgetry. As an experiment over the last few days I've been listening to it (whilst decorating, walking, on the bus, et al) and the experience has been rather odd to be honest.

The feeling of utter cut-offness from my surroundings is eerie, and probably rather dangerous. It's hard to put my finger on why it feels so wrong, but it's certainly odd that I enjoy a bus journey more without my favourite music in my ears than with it. I guess I don't find the experience so dreadful that I need to find such an artificial way to escape from it.

The second thing I noticed is that it does odd things to the experience of listening to the music itself. It's difficult to convey my joy when "Teenage Kicks" comes on or "Handsworth Revolution" but leaping into a funky dance routine at the bus stop may jeopardise my chances of the bus actually stopping for me.

It's like I've got to pretend not to be listening to music, whilst I'm pretending not to be on the bus, leaving neither experience particularly satisfactory. I suppose that's my objection to play stations and the like, it somehow seems rather like we're becoming part of the machine - in a way far more profound than watching TV or listening to the radio at home. I wonder why.

Perhaps it's because TV and radio programmes reproduce human interaction, admittedly at arms length, or perhaps it's just down to the mechanics of the thing where ear plugs cut out the possibility of anything butting into your own private world. Hmmm.


Louisefeminista said...

But isn't it also like cutting out the world as well? I see people on the train every morning with their earphones stuck in their ears staring at the paper or book (unlike me who falls asleep!). It is also like having your own space but with something pleasant.

You don't relate to the people around you and that, to me, is about alienation and feeling atomised in this society.

Jim Jay said...

Well I think cutting out the world and being alienated from it are very similar if not the same. But I think it's more than just other people - it's also shielding yourself from your environment... but you are still there.

I try not to get involved in conversations with strangers - being from the south of England and often find the experience painful when I accidently find myself chatting away with some mad bloke or whatever... this experience of wearing headphones I think does something one step up - it excludes not just social interaction but the majority of your physical interaction with the physical world.

I think that's bad... for some reason I can't quite articulate

AN said...

You don't relate to the people around you and that, to me, is about alienation and feeling atomised in this society."

i think that is specifically the expereince of bwing in London, not a part of the human condition - becaaue you Londoners are a miserable bunch !!

Louisefeminista said...

Oh Thank-You, Comrade AN!

I like being sooooo miserable and it is indeed part of the "London Experience"....Not to be missed.

Btw: I only smile (laugh? that's pushing it) when there's a "z" in the month.

AN said...

Yoi should move to germany then

Dave Riley said...

It's all in the POV. I am a dedicated listener to these devices but I don't listen to music much through them. The REAL PLUS is that they can extend your capacity to learn while you are doing the most mundane or menial of tasks. Walking, floor washing, wall painting,commuting, laying down or whatever can be turned into learning exercises as the latest podcastable wafts through the ear canal. I find it very empowering in a lifestyle sort of way. And besides, these devices --and the mp3 format -- is the crudest way to listen to music. The quality --because of the amount of squish involved -- is always a trade off. Better to use a Mini Disc/Walkman.

I think it revolutionary in fact, in a cultural sense,that I can do all these other things and still listen to something profound or extraordinary or useful anywhere.

As for the alienation and easy switch off in regard to those around you -- the main problem with mp3 devices is that they are so hard to turn off quickly while you also stumble to remove the plugs from your ears to be fully attentive and polite. But since talk is published at a lower decibel than music this disengagement of which you refer JimJay isn't so marked. With voice only you are still in the bus, train or tram... because you are still cognizant of its soundscape. And besides, in those contexts you refer to --such as commuting -- I would have had my head buried in a newspaper or book if I wasn't being so auditorially engaged.
The problem I have is explaining to people why they should listen to the latest edition of Free Speech Radio News...or that there was narrowly proscribed discussion about anarchism on the BBC's In Our Time..or that Background Briefing has a great doco on identity cards...etc. And that's because they don't listen like I do and thats' MY primary alienation. I'm into this real COOL McLuhanist medium that offers such a high informational quotient, even more so, I think, than newspaper some times.
Walter Benjamin has an interesting essaythat relates to this phenomenon...

And I reckon it may encourage you not to feel so guilty for switching ON when you think you are switching OFF.

a very public sociologist said...

And Steve Jobs of Apple fame announces the all singing, all dancing I Phone. It's only a matter of time before we can wire our brains up to the net. That'll do wonders for real world interaction.

Louisefeminista said...

AN: "You should move to germany then"


AN said...

Louise - you said "Ionly smile (laugh? that's pushing it) when there's a "z" in the month.

Which is never in England, but Marz and Dezember in germeny.

probably there is a z in every month in Polish.

AN said...

or more properly Maerz, there is an umlaut

Jim Jay said...

AVPS: The stuff of all good sci-fi of course. I think my concern about this is that we are losing touch with physical realities... realities that have not gone away.

I suppose all these issues the press get so excised about like obesity are direct consequences of a plugged in life. And I'm unsure there is a direct bonus in the quality of life through the mass use of devices.

DR: I'm glad someone is sticking up for them - and I agree that word of mouth (eg radio) doesn't quite have the same effect as music - although even there people would not do it if there was not a pay off for them.

But my concern with this is the more hi-technology can do for us the less we rely on ourselves.

The mobile phone seems to have erased the ability of the population to remember phone numbers, and what was seen as an unnesecary toy of the rich is now an ever present all bleeping, all texting gadget.

As I say I'm not trying to advocate a hard line on this - I just want to think it through... but my concerns about the kind of life we're living is definately still there.

Daniel S. Ketelby said...

Interesting discussion - thanks, JimJay, for kicking it off.

I guess alongside the alienation issue - missing interactions with other humans or the physical world - there's the mentality of "needing" to "use" the time which would otherwise be "lost"... we 'sweat' those small parcels of previously unprogrammed time the way that nineteenth-century mill-owners used to sweat their human resources.

Recommended: In Praise of Slow, by Carl Honore. Does what it says on the tin - various alternatives to nineteenth-century-mill-owner-time.

AN said...

There is another issue to do with virtualisation of relationshipps, in that when people are together there is a hormonal repsonse (we are herd animals) thattends to peopple liking each other - bonding.

But this is absent in more objectified relationshipps, hence road rage, keyboard rage, etc

Jim Jay said...

Daniel - I think this is a really useful point.

I used to feel guilty when doing nothing and now realise that without space to be yourself without loads going on you really miss out and often lose perspective... although obviously this shouldn't be taken to extremes!

AN - also sexual relationships over the internet (and txt I suppose) it's taking the compartmentalisation of ourselves into seperate aspects (sex/ work / hobbies.. etc) and seperating it out still further (language / visual / touch / liquidities...) when, I think, becoming rounded involves bringing these strands together rather than seperating them out still further

Disillusioned kid said...

This article deals with some of these issues and might be of interest.

Jim Jay said...

That's a good article DK - well spotted.