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The Irony of Calling iPod Users "Sheep"

post #1 of 114
Thread Starter 
In Minima Moralia, German philosopher Theodor Adorno predicted that a time would come when no one rebelled against the dehumanizing nature of consumer-based society. The reason: Because the idea of rebellion would be built into the society itself. Rebellion would simply become another flavor, another category, with which the consumer could grow preoccupied.

That time has arrived and the iPod is a fascinating example of Adorno's prediction.

Some people buy iPods to enhance the experience of mass-marketed pseudo-individuality. Apple's ad campaigns speak to precisely this audience. Others avoid the iPod because they react negatively to overt manipulation but then succumb to the next layer of manipulation: They come to believe that other less conspicuous companies are the truer rebels. Such people cite the extra features and less stylized design of their players as evidence they are not "sheep," even as they brandish their credit cards to purchase another flavor of target-marketed miniaturized jeweled gewgaw. Later, they'll spend hours studying their gewgaw collection with affection, lust and awe -- the collector's equivalent of Narcissus' gazing into the mirror.

I've always found it amusing that the fans of other devices by other companies disparage iPod users as suggestible. If you own a portable player and call Apple users "sheep," then you'd better include yourself in that category. If you upgrade your player regularly, then by your own description, you might actually be even more of a "sheep" than certain veteran iPod users. A person who buys an early 15 GB iPod for $169 and avoids upgrading because sound quality minutiae fail to justify the expense is not being a lemming. S/he's being practical. On the other hand, a person who upgrades simply because too many others are buying iPods is exhibiting classic consumer lemming behavior: S/he's more interested in reacting to fashion trends than listening to music.

The problem is similar to that of owning a pair of ER-6i: Some people wince at them because they're white and can be mistaken for Apple earbuds. Yet ER-6i are extremely useful because they fit certain listeners' criteria: they're inexpensive, detailed and appropriate for the purposes of mobile listening.

To put it in second person: If it really matters to you that the unobservant might think your specialized high-quality earphones are Apple earbuds, then perhaps you shouldn't be calling anyone else a fashion lemming.

When bashing Apple users, people often leave out the factor of real-world cost. The only reason I own two iPods is because the iHP120 was nearly twice as expensive as each of my "refreshed" 3Gs; at the time, I couldn't justify purchasing a $370 device. Since my ultimate consideration was cost, does my owing two iPods make me a person who is too influenced by trends? Only if iHP120 users are trend-victims as well.

Recently (according to a friend), iRiver announced they were going to compete with Apple by adding more features, since they can't compete with price. If that's true, and if the optical IO returns, then I'll have a professional reason for upgrading my iPods. If not, and I refrain from buying, I'll still be one of Adorno's conditioned consumers. But whatever I do, I'll be less prone to certain levels of manipulation than "sheep" who call iPod users "sheep." Whether buying from Apple or iRiver, I'll always be aware that to buy such a thing is to fall into some niche of consumer manipulation. That will be equally true when I buy audiophile gear -- or anything else we love to discuss on these "sheep"-driven boards.
post #2 of 114
I wish english was my native language so I could write that snappy. Instead all I can do is agree.
post #3 of 114
Owning two old ipods is practical?
Have you any wool?
post #4 of 114
Baaaaa, baaaaaaaa , nano, nano , nano
post #5 of 114
scrypt, you masterfully state the obvious

We shall all try and practice tolerance, even to those we feel to be sheep, as long as their decisions have no impact on us.
post #6 of 114
This reminds me when Audi first came out with the TT. The general public was raving about how such a nice car it was when almost all journalists were taking it as a nice looking car but not much of a driver's car. The fact that the car is mechanically identical to a cheaper, more economic VW Golf or the fact that the shape of the car creates ridiculous lift on high speeds and make the driver lose control without notice didnt stop people raving about that car abit. The key variable here was again, marketing. The car's admitedly good looks and the fact that it's AWD system is in the least bit related with Audi's previously dominating rallycars of the 80s made it sound like it was engineered around race technology. The car was actually a success stealing a good bit of market share from Porsche's infinitely better Boxster. I dont think the actual Golf with TT's mechanical bits can pull that off. A victory for visual design and marketing.

IMO, in the DAP sector, the iPod is abit of an Audi TT. Its image is just not what it actually is. Just a good simple hard/software in a very sexy design and a premium price.

I'm not sure how many people out there avoid upgrading to newer ipods because they have previous generation ipods. Since people already made the choice to go for an iPod, the fact that they already have an old one will not stop people from going for a newer model. Especially since they can most definitely afford one.

Necessity takes a back seat to desire in this luxury industry.

I also notice this "more number of GB = more audiophile" phenomenon starting to surface. For instance, if you have a 60gb ipod, people would think you are an audiophile.
post #7 of 114
IMHO it's still more common for people to buy iPods because it's the most well known and they think it must automatically be best, then for people to not buy iPods because it's well known.
post #8 of 114
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by neversummer
Owning two old ipods is practical?
Have you any wool?
It shouldn't matter whether my decision sounds sensible to you, since, on various levels, we're both being manipulated by marketing. Any fashion decision one makes, pro or con, is the decision to wear a uniform.

Make no mistake: You and I are as wooly as every other mp3 owner. But in case my reasons do matter to anyone, here they are: The purpose of my (separate) purchases was to have (1) internal battery and hard drive backup, since both are prone to failure (I'm not concerned about battery life in the age of tinnitus), (2) a second player to share with my girlfriend, since she has powered speakers but no system, CD collection or mp3 library and (3) the iPod version most easily hacked in Linux. (I've always wanted to experiment with the supposed enhanced recording features of that Wolfson DAC revision; until recently, I wasn't sure the experiement would be possible.) Hard drive failure occurred within eight months of purchase; I was glad to have a spare.

Also: Living in NYC, where iPods are often stolen, it seemed sensible to buy the kind that is least desirable, least expensive, least traumatic to replace and has sufficient capacity, convenience and features for limited use.

Originally Posted by K2Grey
IMHO it's still more common for people to buy iPods because it's the most well known and they think it must automatically be best, then for people to not buy iPods because it's well known.
Yes, but the self-delusion of the uncommon consumer is far more pernicious than that of the common. That's why we should be aware of our own short-sighted materialism as often as we diagnose it in others.

Also: The capacity for self-delusion is sometimes even stronger when it becomes more subtle. Most of my friends don't shop for clothes at the Gap or Target, but they do gloat about buying rare 80s Nikes, antique cap-toed Oxfords, vintage watches, second-hand Vera Wang dresses or discovering the perfect Saville Row-trained bespoke tailor for forging knock-offs of $3000 swing-friendly suits. All they're really doing is establishing their sense of consumer individuality by buying clothes.

DRSpeed85: I like your observations. I'm reminded of William Gibson's first short story, "The Gernsback Continuum," the xeroxed manuscript of which is somewhere around my apartment (along with "Johnny Mnemonic" -- both look typewritten). I'm paraphrasing, but he describes a pencil sharpener that contains the same Victorian mechanism as any other but which looks outwardly "as if it had been designed in a wind tunnel": "It was all an elaborate play for living in the future" -- which is, of course, the way our "advanced" mp3 players are marketed.

Of course, my paraphrase of Gibson is really a paraphrase of Roland Barthes's Mythologies, the study of which is how Gibson got certain of his ideas.
post #9 of 114
Absolutely disgusting post, scrypt.

Note: http://www.urbandictionary.com/defin...erm=disgusting
post #10 of 114
Absolutely agree with you, scrypt.

Mainly because before I got my 4G 20Gb iPod in June, I was one of those "rebels", and have now seen the light
post #11 of 114
From an earlier post of mine in a somewhat similar vein:

Isn't it ironic that we Apple supporters are considered elitists for buying Macs because of their higher price and smaller numbers, yet lemmings when we buy iPods 'cause they're so popular?

That others agree with our choice does tend to give us all the fuzzies, but we shouldn't be upset that others prefer bananas to oranges. Then again, perhaps I'm simplifying too much. After all, the difference between a vegetarian and a cannibal is more than just a matter of taste.

For some of us, selecting a DAP isn't an "either/or" proposition. We simply buy what we want without regard to the taste or opinion of others.
post #12 of 114
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Spad
From an earlier post of mine in a somewhat similar vein:

For some of us, selecting a DAP isn't an "either/or" proposition. We simply buy what we want without regard to the taste or opinion of others.
Here's your own custom-tailored irony: I'll refer to that idea as your neither/nor consumer strategy.

BTW: I liked your cannibal/vegetable comparison.

Coffeeaddict: Disgusting is good, but I was hoping for repulsive. I once met someone whose posts were nauseating (Tux Vomica, we called him), but he had far too much prestige to yammer at me for long.
post #13 of 114
Excellent points regarding marketing, perceptions and consumer behavior. I've come across many posts on Head-Fi disparaging iPods and iPod users. I recall a member stating that he dislikes people who own iPods and judges them as lacking in character.

I was surprised by such vehemence regarding what is, after all, just a piece of consumer electronics. Hating someone because of the DAP they use is, in my opinion, taking consumerism too seriously.
post #14 of 114
Thread Starter 
No, we shouldn't tolerate player-owner-hating any more than we would other kinds of shallow presumption. Still, that's a difficult idea to put across to people whom ads have conditioned to form tribes around luxury items.

I don't agree with such behavior, but I can understand why it happens:

Suppose you're a kid who gets beaten to death with Apple's marketing. Everything you know you're not, the ads target you as personifying. You see annoying caricatures of your clothes and incorrect assumptions about the kinds of music you like. Idiots at school not only own iPods but actually give you attitude about owning them. Then, slowly, the players become omnipresent: You leave your house and, everywhere you go, you see people clutching white rounded rectangles and being choked by slender white tendrils. The people seem distracted as you pass, emptied by the rectangles, which look to you like so many tickets to the Ballroom of Gapers. Always, they shuffle off haplessly toward some insipid destination.

The above perception isn't true, of course. But I can see why things might look that way. In the 70s, John Carpenter or Larry Cohen would have made a snickering horror film on the subject.

Even now, I can see the above story being adapted ironically in an ad campaign for a company like iRiver or Neuros Audio. (Built-in irony can work when it makes cynical intentions appear bullet-proof.) They couldn't make overt references to Apple, of course: I'd probably create the ads to look like Shaun of the Dead, Invasion of the Body-Snatchers or George Romero's last flick, with shambling undead chartreuse oval users collecting around a glowing ovoid chartreuse store. Everyone would know which player and campaign they were satirizing.
post #15 of 114
What it comes down to, I think, is that we're all so deeply immersed in our consumer culture and sea of advertizing, that those of us that DO begin to see outside of Plato's cave (not in the classical sense neccecarily) attempt a desperate grasp at individuality by generalizing certain groups that they think they should not identify themselves with. This is, of course, false because their basis for individuality is still within the umbrella of material consumer goods. What a sad life it is for us.


I realize that I've summarized ideas presented by others (mostly Scrypt), but my point is that I don't blame the individuals, because most people by and large have no sociological imagination.
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