Wringing in the New Year

For Christmas I received a spiffy little turoquoise ipod, which I just love, but no experience is complete without a little hand wringing.

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma (good book!), Michael Pollan introduces the idea of an ethical price tag. A tomato around here costs about a dollar, but what does it cost in ethical terms? It depends on the damage done to the environment to grow it and transport it to your plate, the treatment of the workers who picked it and sold it, etc. etc. The ipod has an ethical price tag too.

One benefit of an ipod is self-expression I decide what’s on my ipod. The most self-expressive thing you can do with an ipod is create playlists–compilations that select and juxtapose music in just the way that pleases you. So far so good.

The downside is the way an ipod seals each person within her own little microworld. Of course, a lot of things do that. You don’t have to rub shoulders with strangers anymore if you want to watch a movie You don’t even have to wait for your movie to appear on TV. When I was a kid the annual showing of the Wizard of Oz was a grand, collective occasion. Now the movie routinely shows up on TV. And that’s not even a minor occasion, since we’ve got the DVD in our video collection.

An ipod lets you inhabit a private world, but maybe even more so. One night over the Christmas holiday I found myself plugged in while other music was playing over my in-laws’ stereo. You see people everywhere with plugs in their ears and I’ve heard people say their ipod gives them their own private soundtrack to the world. Er, but there’s a comomon world! Isn’t a private soundtrack just a little weird, and virtual, and Matrix-like?

Yes, it’s a little weird, so I’ll have to add a few cents to my ipod’s ethical price tag. But just a few. Overall, I suspect the benefits far outweigh the costs. Handwringing concluded. Happy new year!

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