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Identity technology

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Wednesday, Aug 17, 2005

All hail the iPod. How did we ever know ourselves before we had this technological “window into our souls”? This Washington Post story reminds me just how much we should be grateful for the iPod for serving as a useful device in which to record our memories. Says one iPodder: “You’re making a little collection of emotions and memories for yourself and you stick them all in this little machine and you carry it around with you wherever.” Who needs a brain if you have an iPod? And who has memories that aren’t encapsulated in a pop song? Whose entire life hasn’t been like a montage scene, like in 90210, where the characters have wordless fun in two-second snippets while Sixpence None the Richer plays?


And anyway, what good are memories if they are not indexed to pop songs and cataloged on a portable device? We want to be able to carry our fondest moments with us (and even access them randomly! Hurray for shuffle play! My life wasn’t nearly random enough before this wonderful tenchnology. I wish I could hire someone to shuffle my furniture while I’m at work. It’s so frustrating to go home to the same old arrangement.) And having them tied more tightly to pop songs makes my remembrances that much easier for advertisers to exploit. So a song that made me fall in love with my girlfriend could be used to help me fall in love with a car. Who doesn’t want to fall in love? The iPod can help me fall in love over and over again. God bless Apple!


The story reports that “In the upcoming book iPod, Therefore I Am, part memoir, part valentine, the English journalist Dylan Jones writes: “The big thing about the iPod, I thought, was the way in which it forces you to listen to your life in a different way.” That is so true. I was listening to my life through a jelly jar pressed up against my television set, but now the iPod has changed all that. Now I can hear songs I didn’t remember liking, at any given moment. The iPod does the thinking for me. It’s wonderful! Can I get it to pick out my dinner from a menu? Can I get it to shuffle my wardrobe?


Do you remember the first time you heard “Witchita Lineman”? What a golden memory. Yeah, that song was never trendy, not even when Urge Overkill covered it. The other day, when I was in my fifth rep at the gym and my iPod played that really kickass song by Coldplay, the one where he whines, I thought, God, how relaxing is this! Thank you, iPod, for teaching me some more about myself, all those important things I forgot.


According to Sherry Turkle, director of the Initiative on Technology and the Self at MIT, where she teaches the psychology of the relationship between people and machines, “The iPod is a very powerful identity technology… a reflection of who we are as people, a way of seeing ourselves in the mirror of the machine,” she says. An important reminder: Having an identity requires technology. The notion of being obsessed with one’s own identity is a relative recent innovation. Before techology we were content to develop our sense of self through our interactions with other people and through the functions we actually performed in our community. But thankfully we have machines to isolate us from communities and permit us to construct a self based on our adolescent memories and fantasies. Technology filters out the troublesome opinions of other people, and lets us be exactly who we want to be with no regard to reality.


What is so nauseating about stories like these, aside from their being free advertising, is that they prop up lifestyle consumption; they function only to help you rationalize a purchase or make you feel like it is absolutely necessary to buy something to fit in with the zeitgeist. The more articles like this that run, the more it becomes anamolous that one doesn’t have an iPod; the more I time I have to spend explaining why I don’t have one and don’t want one, questions I never really wanted to answer, because in answering them I sound like one of the self-righteous downshifters mentioned below. Can’t people enjoy their technology in peace? Why do newpapers have to whip them up into a frenzy of self-congratulation for using technology, if it’s already supposed to be so great as it is, due to its own functionality? That so much ink is spilled trying to remind us about the wonders of technology should be enough to tell us just how inconsequential it really is. Not only that, but it remakes your sense of self in its own image—we become dependent on machines to even know who we are; we are what the machines permit us to be and nothing more. What a cause for celebration.

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