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white trash

yes, my lovelies, i have returned from the dead, at least for the time it takes me to write this post. this is not just another piece of observational drivel about how i haven't been taking care of the blog lately, although i clearly haven't. on that front, though, the principal cause of my absence has actually been due to me trying to get another, somewhat related project, off the ground. unfortunately, that project has met with some frustrating delays which means that anyone who follows this blog [perhaps there are still a few of you who haven't entirely given up] would understandably be left with the impression that i'd simply forsaken more like space to marvel at the complexity of my own belly button lint. [it's possible you had that impression even before i disappeared.]

ok, enough with that. i have a subject i wanted to discuss with you, in the sense that i will want and encourage you to respond with questions, concerns and criticism in the comments or by emailing me. the subject is one of those small things that is actually a big thing. a big evil thing. air pods.

dom sent me an article yesterday that you can find here. it's a bit scattered in execution, which makes it less effective than it should be, but it's worth reading. the author makes a compelling case for her theory that air pods are a tragedy: their manufacturing process is built on the misery of thousands in the developing world, their price and fragility [in terms of both their shelf life and the fact that they are easy to use] make them a symbol of wealth and entitlement ["i can afford to spend money on these frivolous objects while others live in a permanent state of food insecurity!"] and their components make them an environmental nightmare that will last a thousand years.

her research is well-documented with links to credible sources but even if those sources weren't connected, much of what she's addressed is already pretty well established, it's just that it hasn't been drawn together in such a way as to reveal the full horror of their impact on the world. [and there are a few areas in which she may even be understating the full scope of the problem. for instance, while apple has received approbation from the likes of amnesty international for their efforts to buy cobalt from countries with better humanitarian records than the democratic republic of congo, they are also trying to corner the world's cobalt supply. the biggest offenders in terms of inhumane cobalt sourcing are actually car manufacturers and there remain many tech companies, like microsoft, who are still listed as major offenders. these companies have not taken adequate action to address the cobalt problem and, if apple is successful in locking down a huge portion of the world's cobalt supply, they won't be able to. one company controlling supply will also drive up the price of the element which will in turn drive up the price of all related products, increasing their status as "rich kid toys".]

all of the problems she raises are true and fair and awful but i'd like to suggest another, more esoteric issue: air pods will kill music.

sure, music isn't on the level of human life, but it is something that is unique to human life [as far as we can tell]. it is something with no practical purpose [at its root], something that gives us joy and beauty and awe. sure, you can argue that music has been repackaged as a commodity and you would not be wrong. but that's because we've lost the ability to conceive of anything outside of its financial value, which is a whole other [but related] discussion.

consider the air pods: they do not offer great sound; it is disposable for all intents and purposes; its construction will have a tendency to distract from whatever sounds are coursing through it because they're going to loosen in the ear or fall out entirely, or start to malfunction before their time if they are taken outdoors. every one of these factors diminishes the ability of the listener to engage with music. they won't get the full effect of the sound spectrum in use. they won't hear the production touches conceived to heighten the experience. what they'll hear is a flattened, simplistic version of music that will ultimately render all music disposable. After all, if there's no detail that can be distinguished, it's hard to argue that music is anything but background noise.

music has already become largely disposable. there are so many things that are encouraging about its democratization in the internet age and the shift of power from the curators of publicly available sounds [principally music labels] to the music makers themselves. at the same time, it means that actually following anything that's happening in the world of music has become a staggering and often frustrating challenge. there's just so goddamn much of it out there that it becomes difficult to find the gems among the stones. and the more we listen to, the less we absorb of any of it. there is always more coming out that begs our attention, as opposed to years ago when fans of any genre might expect a dozen releases a year to really stand out. [to be clear, i'm not advocating for the glory of the "good old days". those days were fraught with problems, for instance, the unwillingness of many music labels and distributors to stray outside the established parameters of a specific genre. my point is that more music presents challenges that even the most ardent music fans weren't prepared to face, especially in light of the fact that the change has been rapid and profound.]

when you add to that the fact that these newfangled devices allow you only a shallow appreciation for the music you listen to, the problem of too much input is multiplied.

is there a solution? well sure. you can spend even more money on a sound system that gives you the full experience of the music you're hearing. you can invest in much higher end headphones. but these solutions mean that music itself becomes the property of the wealthiest class; who else can afford the gadgets required to listen to music on this level? and the wealthiest class overwhelmingly subscribe to the tropes of the dominant culture. [don't believe me? name a billionaire who's voiced their admiration for power electronics or black metal. i'll wait.] how exactly do subcultures thrive in that sort of setting? spoiler alert: they don't. the most groundbreaking music, therefore, gets choked off because listeners are unable to appreciate it on a meaningful level.

and i'll take it one step further: bougie toys like air pods severely limit the space in which people can enjoy music. i listen to music at home but i listen to it nearly as much when i'm walking around, running errands or just getting outside. air pods aren't built for walking or any activity that might cause them to be jostled around. they aren't built for exposure to the elements. they're built for short ventures outside followed by stretches of time in a vehicle [like a car or school bus]. you can't legally use them in a car. you can only use them at home if you're comfortable shutting yourself off from anyone who shares the space. air pods are an invitation to limit the places where you can enjoy music. because music is frivolous and disposable, right? because if you want to be serious about music, you should be willing to shell out for a proper sound system, right?

as i said earlier, this is not a concern that comes close to the level of importance of human rights or the environment. you could certainly argue that making the case for being able to enjoy music is a signal of first world privilege and i would absolutely support you in that. but that doesn't mean that it's entirely unimportant. music is unique in that it is both an artifact of art and pop culture. it can express cultural identity and it can also express cultural exchange. there are few things that can connect to our essential humanity in the way that music does. and embedded in the technology of the air pod is the demand that we dismiss its larger role. and that is a tragedy of a different sort.

caroline haskins is right: a thousand years from now, people [assuming they still exist] will marvel at the air pod as part of the trash of capitalism. and it's possible that they'll do so as beings who have no real experience of the power of music. 

Comments

Martin Rouge said…
Air pods are a dumb idea, brought to you by a company that is grasping at straws for relevance.

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