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Are iPods a culture? This article in Wired describes a trend of iPod owners approaching other people with iPods and trading music for a few moments at a time. This kind of spontaneous interaction is strange and delightful, and the great success rate (outside NYC, at least) of such encounters indicates that there are some interesting shared values characteristic of people who walk around listening to iPods:

Author Douglas Rushkoff suggested that iPod sharing is a legacy of online file sharing—essentially the same thing, except offline.

"It's kind of a stoner's ethic, really, the way you pass the joint at a Dead show," he said.

So what does this mean? If you see me walking around with an iPod, and you think we might both enjoy exchanging music for a few moments, what are you really supposing about me? Here are some ideas:

  • I may have interesting taste in music
  • I am open to interacting with strangers
  • I think strangers might actually have something to offer me
  • I'm not likely to turn to you and say that your racket is antimusical devil-chant, and you should be taken out and shot for your blasphemy, even if I dislike your music.
  • Aesthetic pleasure can and should be shared.

These values imply a worldview that is highly trusting and open to connections, even with strangers. It is even kind of like the bonds that can be formed under oppression, where victims and their supporters can come together despite disagreement to protest war or civil injustice. But now, with the iPod, similar subcultural bonds can form through the enjoyment of music, which is both intimate and inclusive. In this regard it handily beats drugs, although one would look silly listening to an iPod at a Grateful Dead concert.

Approaching someone with an iPod may not be too different from approaching someone who's reading a book you like. But the particular techie-ness of the iPod, its style, and its iconic status probably make it more inviting. There are probably under 30 books that I would inspire me to approach someone on the subway, but from a distance, an iPod is an iPod is an iPod. And there is of course something special about music as an expressive medium that can transcend mood, education, and culture to help different people experience life together.