As a new user (I know, years behind the curve) of an I-Pod and an instructor at a technical university, this book interested me doubly. I wanted to learn about the making of this product, its design and marketing, and how the aura of cool was generated triumphantly around this, say, and not the Rio. I referred my students to this book as an example of how to analyze the cultural impacts of a specific technological product. The table of contents mimics the readout on the I-Pod screen, and the contents themselves combine snippets of print, often in sidebar or columnal formats, as played against graphics--the visual and the textual jostle for attention, fittingly, in this book about not only the nuts-and-bolts of the machine, but how it looks: surely one of the key features that led this handsome player to succeed while other clunkier models had failed to gain massive sales.
At times, this volume's layout can be like reading Wired Magazine: a bit overwhelming when you simply want to look up a short entry. Like Wired, it's a bit pricy for what's actually compiled as text within as opposed to the attention-getting graphics. Kahney, a reporter for Wired News, reports here as a suitable follow-up to "The Cult of Mac," according to the back blurb (made to imitate in its copy and layout the I-Pod's own iconography). As a non-Mac user, it's intriguing to get a vivid if not too detailed glimpse into how the other 20% lives with their Cupertino- designed accoutrements.
This book admittedly does feel cobbled together as an assembly of bite-sized features and eye-candy pictorials, familiar to any reader of Wired. Yet, I suppose the author knows his audience. If the likely reader of this book is as curious about not the how-to of the I-Pod but the why, then this book begins to provide suggestions. Not for the newbie needing advice on its mimimalistically presented operation, but for the adept wishing to delight in its Zen-like presence. It's for a crowd who I presume is as enamored with the appearance of a product as well as the function of a product-- and this expresses Apple's cachét within the computer realm neatly. Therefore, it's an appropriate combination for the eyes that accompanies the soundtrack of one's life for each user's ears.
A suitable print companion would be Dylan Jones' "IPod, Therefore I Am" published also in 2005: this in Nick Hornsby "High Fidelity"-fashion conveys Jones' packing of his 40Gb jukebox with the best of his many records, and how our consumption of music has been affected by its portability. Malcolm McLaren back around 1982 predicted that music would become less important for younger generations but more disposable and therefore sought after as a cheap commodity. (This observation quoted in another fine 2005 study, Simon Reynolds' "Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984.") This separation of the medium from the message, so to speak, reflects, perhaps, two decades later, the ubiquity of the device and the detachment of the record sleeve, the tape, the disc, from the music itself in digitized bytes and invisible shapes.
So, how does Leander Kahney succeed? Theorists and then journalists will no doubt follow the first reports on the I-Pod's arrival, as did Theodore Roscek and Stewart Brand and James Fallows and Tracy Kidder twenty-odd years ago in the wake of the first Apples and PCs. This larger-format but only 150 pp. entry, then, reminds me of two decades ago, when non-techies began raving about their PCs and how such devices would liberate us from drudgery and bring about unity. It's a primer to a phenomenon. Utopian, perhaps, in some of its claims, but this is probably the earliest entry in what will be a short shelf of studies of the impact of the shift from what's been labelled a move from broad- to narrow- to pod-casting, as the websites that supplanted networks in turn are superseded by programming tailored not to but by the individual. Kahney concludes that it's not technology but our culture that makes us antisocial, and that the I-Pod is not to be blamed. In fact, as podcasting and the sharing of playlists shows, it may in fact simply be the latest and far more easy-to-use evolved version of the mix-cassette tapes that were once lovingly made and exchanged as tokens of friendship and shared admiration those couple of decades ago.