Omnipresent advertising boards show black silhouettes, representing people from diverse age, gender and vocational categories. The silhouettes are shown in commonplace situations, such as skateboarding, or dancing to disco music.In an especially suggestive image, we see a girl taking her dog for a walk. By an implicit association, the iPod is the girl’s faithful companion. The images suggest that this musical device has become a part of our daily routine, with MP3 music as the soundtrack of our lives.
Observing the images in a sequence, you get the feeling that you are participating in a general social phenomenon. Everyone is dancing to the same rhythm, plugged into a collective musical experience, much like believers share a common God in religious ceremonies.
The black silhouette conjures up the Rorschach blot. As in that famous personality test, one cannot identify with the shadow because its facial features remain invisible. In this way, every user can project own content into the figure, establishing a personal contact with the iPod. The visual style of the advertising, full of dark shadows and subdued colours, generates the atmosphere of a cult.
The very brand name ”iPod” refers to the religious aspects of the MP3 technology. The blending of ”I” and ”pod” has biotechnological connotations: information hardware fuses with bodily processes. As a white surface set against a dark background, the I-pod collapses the boundary between the inside and the outside. On the one hand, the player is hanging from the user’s neck, resembling a hearing device, thus extending the body’s sensorial apparatus. On the other hand, the iPod may be perceived as an internal organ. A seamless connection is established between the medium and the human agent. Much like a religious believer is ”taken over” by the Holy Spirit, the iPod user becomes a vessel for the machine’s mysterious vibrations.
At this point it is highly instructive to remember the film ”Existenz” (1999), where Canadian director David Cronenberg uses the word ”pod” to describe video game devices. When the users touch their pod, they are transported into a shared virtual experience. At one point the pods get out of control and the players find themselves unable to distinguish between parallel reality levels.
The cult of the MP3 player leads to a similar paradox, because the position of an iPod ”believer” remains split between isolation and sharing. While he partakes of the musical experience with a group of fellow users, the listener is simultaneously closed into his own universe. As the author of the Guardian article quotes, the critics of the iPod craze consider its users ”anti-social people”. The listener can never be sure whether his enjoyment comes from communicating with the outside world, or being enclosed in a virtual hallucination.
A philosopher might say that the iPod relates to solipsism, as defined by the English writer Berkeley in the 19th century. If tree´s existence depends on my gaze, when I close my eyes, the tree shall disappear. If my existence depends on God’s gaze, who is to say that I won’t disappear when God closes his eyes? In 2004, NEWSWEEK published an article on iPods which drew on the famous maxim by Descartes, ”Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I exist), redefined in the solipsistic key – ”iPod, therefore I am”. Being plugged into the musical network becomes the guarantee of our very existence.
The slogan’s implications reach beyond the scope of MP3 players. iPods are but one instance of the coming nano-technology, which will make it possible to inject microscopic devices into our bloodstream, pushing the machine deeper inside the body. In this strange new world, questions will arise about the best way to replace traditional forms of bonding with media technology.