In life it’s often best to keep up with the Joneses. On the practical level, people ask less questions. On the existential level, you’re more well-adjusted. Or betterly-adjusted.

So imagine this: I’m a musician, and I just woke up to the fact that I still don’t own an mp3 player. Pow! How could that be? I love music, and I don’t have an mp3 player!

After a bit of head-scratching, I came up with the following rationalizations for my outstanding mp3 player non-purchase decision:

#10 – Yet another object to dangle along when I leave home.

Does it seem that leaving home takes forever these days? Think of all the little stuff you’re sweating over at each and every home departure.

#9 – I don’t see the point of digitizing and compiling all my music in one place.

I’m (finally!) getting smarter with my computer system back-ups, and make digital copies of everything I can… except music. After years of iTunes use, I realize I actually only listen to a small portion of my iTunes library. Same goes for my CD collection: within the variety I only listen to a small segment, whatever’s relevant to me as a musician.

In other words, in terms of my music habits, there’s vastness in depth, not in coverage.

So – by and large – whatever I get on CD, I keep on CD, whatever I download stays in my iTunes library. And the whole point of having an mp3 player is about having your entire music library at your fingertips, no?

#8 – Self-inflicted noise-pollution seems a little pathetic.

Interesting that Apple should even risk getting sued for not putting an ear damage volume threshhold warning on their pod-thingies. What’s up with you, iPodders?

Seems to me this “self-inflicted deafness” phenomenon has a bit to do with addiction to loud music. People don’t just listen to their music anymore, they are their music. Better, they experience total identity-dissolving fusion with their music, in an act of sheer cosmic union. Just like in the Joy of Sex.

Great way to go deaf.

#7 – I have a lot of other things I need (and would like) to buy, before an mp3 player.

Yes, an mp3 player is in the “luxury expense” category for me, not the necessities. Not even leisure necessities 😉

#6 – My daily commute (work, shopping, etc.) is pretty groovy as is.

Montreal is always pleasant to do the non-motor-vehicle commute through. And you miss a lot of interesting stuff on the way somewhere when you’re in your own little movie.

Not that I’m against having a (personalized) soundtrack for travel. On this topic, I usually prefer European film over American movies, for the following simple fact: as a rule, Euro-flicks give their audiences more emotional space by not filling in every dramatic moment with music.

#5 – I like quiet.

I live in a city. There’s always plenty of aural stimulation going on. My favorite city experiences are: quiet at home, or quiet in the park.

Besides, I grew up an avid reader of books. Reading books requires relative quiet. Now that my internet habits have mostly killed my reading habits, I still relish the (solitary) quiet that a reader grows accustomed to.

#4 – I do other things than turn on music when I get bored.

Even if I do listen to music on a daily basis, turning on the tunes isn’t a reflex for me.

#3 – Everybody seems to have one!

Always a big disincentive for me: mob rule. Oh sure, the variety of the stuff you can listen to on your mp3 player is infinite, but the trend itself seems rather conformist.

Well, perhaps this reaction of mine is a response to Apple’s pervasive and highly-successful iPod marketing campaign(s). And according to the iPod gospel, every self-expressive rebellious individual must have an iPod.

#2 – I’m a (slow learning) musician.

In my experience, listening to music is a more focussed activity when you’re a musician.

Musical recordings communicate a finality which is never there in the process of learning or performance. Therefore, for a musician a recording is primarily a record of musical interpretation, not simply a part of one’s identity and/or cultural experience.

For an experienced musician the act of listening to a recording implies hearing in one’s mind’s ear the rich possiblities of musical interpretation. Recordings are thus often used by musicians as reference media: a recorded piece of music can be a model performance, an archival document, or a learning tool.

As for me, I am a slow learner. I takes me a while to learn new musical ideas and techniques. Because of this, my listening pallette is rather selective, as a rule. I like to paint myself into tiny cultural universes, and dwell within many such universes as the course of my musical learning journey changes over time.

#1 – I have ears and I want to use them. In my daily life.

Ever wish you had earlids?

Perhaps this is one of the major uses of mp3 players: as a psychological filter against one’s environment. Many urban environments are indeed acoustically unpleasant, if not atrocious. Most of us usually adapt to the intensity of our aural and visual environment by focusing our attention on something of interest (i.e. bring a book in the subway), so that everything else becomes white noise.

Therefore, a portable digital audio player can be a great way to tune out your environment, or at least make it seem more pleasant, even more personalized.

As for me, I’d rather take in the ugly with the nice. The risk of tuning out is to live pertpetually in one’s own bubble, or inner trip. Ears have a huge survival value, and I’ve seen to many iPodder pedestrians get into near-accidents on the sidewalk (nevermind the street!) to warrant the daily use of a portable digital audio player with headphones.

And if you’ve every been to Montreal, you know that over 60% the car drivers here are clinically insane. Better to err on the side of caution.

top 10 reasons why I don’t own an mp3 player… yet

Ok, I should have said “yet” right from the beginning. You never know, you never know. Five years ago I swore I’d never get a cell phone, and today I can’t leave the house without it.

To be sure, I don’t mean to come across as a Luddite, fearing mp3 player techno-corruption. And I’ve also bluffed a little so far: my Nokia phone actually has an mp3 player, and I’ve even used it a few times while walking to work, listening to podcasts.

Tried it, but never really adopted it.

So perhaps one day my basic perception will change, but for the moment I still see mp3 players primarily as lifestyle and fashion accessories. And beyond the objections listed above, I believe that in the longer term, it is also my commitment to learning an acoustic musical instrument which will prevent my permanent adoption of just such a device.

But that’s just me. I’d be curious to find out if there are other similarly sensory-biased individals out there who identify with the reasons I’ve listed above in choosing to opt-out of the mp3 player habit. Or alternately, acoustic instrumentalists who just love mp3 players, and couldn’t live without’em!

So, you’ve got an mp3 player? What uses do you make of it in your daily routine?

5 thoughts on “top 10 reasons why I don’t own an mp3 player

  1. I have all of the pieces I am studying on my ipod and Korean and Spanish lessons as well. I mix them in randomly because I don’t necessarily enjoy studying the languages but am studying those out of necessity.

    Incidentally, my girlfriend gave me a cell phone and I almost never use it.

    I was a film major in school and don’t necessarily think European films are better than American ones. Certainly the US puts out its share of bad big budget films but we also have quite an underground movement of top notch films. Europe produces some good films as does Canada. One thing you may want to consider is that European governments subsidize their film industry and the films don’t need to turn a profit. Americans don’t have that luxury. Then again we fon’t have 30%+ taxes or outrageous gas and cigarette prices like in Canada and Europe.

  2. Hi John,

    What instrument do you play, and what style of music? Do you use your iPod as playalong track in practice, or simply use it to listen to your repertoire?

    On Euro vs. Amero flicks: sorry if it looked like I was making a value judgment. Both Europe and America are home to rich traditions in movie-making… and there is such a thing as Eurotrash!

    That said: in my heavy movie-going days of yore, I did notice that European films tended overall to leave more emotional breathing space than American films, and much of this had to do with sparer use of music.

    At least it seemed to me. If you (or anyone) know(s) of a comparative study on this phenomenon, I’d certainly be interested in reading it.

  3. First of all I play rock, jazz, classical guitar, and lately Gypsy Jazz. I also have the ability to play country, bluegrass, and a bit of flamenco. As a teacher it is important for me to have a basic understanding of as many styles as possible. I get more students that way and I really enjoy something about all of these styles.

    As for movies in the states the problem is the industry spends a fortune on big budget special effects movies and that leaves little room for smaller movies. You can make about 100 Being John Malcovich’s or Mementos for the price of one Tranformers or X-Men movies. European movies don’t always have big budgets and therefore must depend on, of all things, a good script to carry the day. I’ll take a good script and unknown but talented actors any day over a overbloated special effects driven spectacle. But in the end I don’t think it’s about the continent of origin so much as industry executives wanting to make money and the general public rewarding their efforts by flocking to see poorly done sequels like Spiderman 3 and Pirates of the Carribean 3.

  4. lol i liked your post, very rationalised, but i still like my mp3 player and use it on a daily basis as a flash drive with all my uni work. I like to have all my music with me, but it is true that i listen to certain song repeatedly and other a lot less. I just take that as i'm getting too familiar with my music, and i should be sampling more i guess hehe.

  5. Thanks William, actually it was a difficult post to write! I realized it would be silly to take any kind of stance either for or against portable digital music players, so I decided to try to understand my own resistance to getting one.

    Now that we have the iPhone, I'm more likely to get the gadget, but I think I would mostly use the player for audiobooks when I'm walking, cuz walking and thinking are good combos for me. As for music, I still find most music too engrossing for complex sensorial tasks like… walking on a sidewalk, or withdrawing into myself in a crowded subway 😉

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