Oct. 29, 2006 Cybersalon Steve Levy On iPods

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On October 29, 2006 The Cybersalon in Berkeley quizzed Newsweek technology reporter Steven Levy about his new book, The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness.

Levy is best known for his book Hackers, the quintessential story of computer pioneers from MIT in the 1950s to Silicon Valley in the 1980s. This recent book is more focused on the iPod and it’s impact on customers and the new digital media complex (DMC).

In five years, the iPod has altered the future of Apple from a computer company to a consumer products and services company. He thinks it is a result of a perfect storm of technology, content, markets and legal decisions.

For Levy, the most important feature is Shuffle. He thinks it so important that he has shuffled the chapters in this book. The book I buy may not have the chapters in same order as yours. This must have driven the publishers and printers crazy. Fortunately, the chapters stand on their own, but I guarantee it will cause no end of confusion to scholars hundreds of years from now.

This attempt at randomness pales in comparison to the iPod shuffle. He talked about his conversation with Steve Jobs and other high level developers who will swear on a stack of bibles that the shuffle is truly random. Levy then read of a stack of e-mails of people who cannot explain the recurring playing of Steely Dan songs, even when not loaded on the iPod (just kidding). Examined by mathematicians, the playlist really seem to be random. The problem is the human perception of random versus the actual randomness of numbers.

The iPod is more personal than a personal computer. The music you put on it says a lot about you. College students compare lists and pair up according to playlist compatibility. President Bush listens to the Knack. Dick Cheney listens to the Carpenters. I wasn’t expecting showtunes.

The iPod is not perfect. It is hard to turn off. It has to be charged. It is difficult to move non-Apple files in and out of the device. Radio stations go off the air. Record stores close their doors. Once mighty media companies are forced to compromise with artists and technology. Despite this, it has transformed how people live. It creates a serendipitous soundtrack as you move through the 21st century.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline All rights reserved.