Social Sciences and Humanity Studies Academic Blog

Ipod and Mp3: Isolation or Emancipation

Posted in assignment, Media by Shekhar on January 16, 2009

( This article was contributed by Gaurav Devkota and Shail Shrestha)

Executive Summary

Our goal for this research project is to evaluate the different expects of the change the ipod and mp3 players have caused in the social as well as personal life of people, and evaluating if it has more isolating nature or emancipating.

Michael Bull, aka Professor iPod or Dr. iPod, a professor in media and film at England’s University of Sussex clams the different aspects on how iPod will help in improving life of people. The blog comments from apples unofficial website also has helped catch the personal views of the iPod users and people concerned on the topic.

Isolating nature of people can’t be blamed solely on iPod while the use of iPod definitely helps in emancipating the environment. And with the control on the environment the living definitely becomes easier


With frequent use of Ipods and Mp3 and its increasing popularity it has caused in decreased involvement of youths in social activities. This has raised a question in the social life of people of future generations.

The term Isolation may refer to the act of being alone; separation. Isolation practices can include placement in a private room or with a select roommate. It is to separate oneself from the social activities and to prefer to spend private time. Here isolation through IPOD or MP3 player refers to the adverse effect of such devices, which always gives an option other then being involved in any social activities.

Freeing someone from the control of another; any authority and control over is called emancipation. And here emancipation is the power of Ipod to separate the listener from the surrounding to the musical world of emotions creating a imaginary wall of sound, giving him the power to control his surrounding.

IPods give people an unprecedented way to choose their own soundtrack for their setting, allowing them to insert their own mood into the environment they’re in. Ultimately, this could result in a big city filled with people who are close in proximity, but each isolated in his or her own private bubble

How does ipod nano affect people’s lives?

Professor iPod has never bought one of Apple’s popular music players, but he can tell you why you need one.

Michael Bull, aka Professor iPod or Dr. iPod, is a professor in media and film at England’s University of Sussex who studies the cultural impact of digital music devices. He has spent the last three years interviewing more than 1,000 iPod owners in the United States and abroad for his new book, Sound Moves: IPod Culture and Urban Experience.

As the stateside release of his book approaches, Wired News talked to Bull about the rise of the digital “urban Sherpa” and why the iPod is a one-stop shop for total bliss and daily rebellion in busy cities.

Wired News: In your new book, you argue that the iPod acts as an urban Sherpa. What exactly do you mean by that?

Michael Bull: It’s the idea that increasingly we use modern technologies to navigate us through our day. In the Himalayas, you have Sherpas to help you through the mountains. They know the route, they have the food and they take care of you…. The iPod is a Sherpa — it has all the things that you want. One of my (interviewees) said, “I store my valuables on the iPod; it’s my data warehouse. If the house burns down, I’m not worried because the iPod has my family jewels…. ” The iPod navigates us through our moods, work, our daily life.

WN: How is the iPod changing the way we interact with public spaces?

Bull: The iPod allows people to control their environment, more so than any other technology. In a world where we have little sense of control over our everyday lives, it can be very satisfying to control how you interact with your environment. You have a playlist that you listen to while you’re out walking around New York … certain songs that remind you of the city. But the real sound of New York is shut off. You’re controlling what your image of the city is. We are fine-tuning the relationship between our own feelings and environment.

There’s a paradox between the cosmopolitan nature of a city and the iPod, which signifies something else. As users become more locked into their increasingly subjective pleasure, they … (are remaking the) world in their own image. It’s the idea that, “I don’t want to hear loud people; I want to be left alone,” and the iPod allows that. The paradox is, cosmopolitism resides in the person’s iPod. It’s often the most amazing array of music from around the world; the rich mix of songs around the world contrasting with the chilly nature of the city…. Where does diversity go? In our pocket.

WN: How, then, does the iPod affect our relationships with one another?

Bull: People voluntarily spend their time away from their family, trapped in cars, on crowded tubes, traveling further and further for work and overall spending more and more time away from home…. In a sense, urban culture is a culture of dislocation. People are dislocated from their homes, so the technologies that we use are connectors that connect us back to each other.

IPod users, mobile phone users, are people who are always in another space. They warm up these alienated spaces with their own pleasure. But what we’re really seeing is an increasing denial of shared space. In a street where everyone has headphones on, if someone shouts, no one can hear them. Of course, if they could hear them, they still might not help. But it furthers existing privacy tendencies in our culture. It enables people to inhabit these spaces much more pleasurably but those (shared) spaces we pass through become increasingly chilly, socially.

WN: Is this increased dependence on gadgets a bad thing?

Bull: I don’t think you can say it’s a bad thing. It’s increasingly difficult for people to get away from things. Your everyday life is accompanied by something. People I talked to panicked if they didn’t have their iPod. And to that, you can’t say, “Well you didn’t have one five years ago,” because it’s become a passive part of the everyday; it’s an integral part of our lives.

WN: Are we going to get burned out?

Bull: It’s good to switch things off sometimes, and maybe that ability is decreasing. People take (their iPods) to Yellowstone (National) Park, or when they go watch humpback whales…. Maybe the 21st-century culture is a culture where we don’t want to be alone without thoughts, so we need a mediator. The only way we can get quiet is by constructing noise.

Many of the people I talked to had good jobs, and a lot of them used their iPods at work with headphones in order to concentrate. The idea being that you can work more efficiently, and not be disturbed…. IPod users are trying to become free by immersing themselves in consumer culture, but on their own terms…. It’s a seamless experience and a way to reclaim the time they often feel is stolen…. If you want to place the technology in a broader sense, the iPod does work to make people happier.

WN: And what about the iPhone? Can it replace the iPod as that source of music and connectivity?

Bull: I did find a distinct relationship between an iPod and users’ mobile phones. The iPod is a continuous experience they’re in control of, and the phone is discontinuous, and when it rings, it’s breaking that isolation bubble, so most people weren’t keen on their mobile phones. I finished the research before the iPhone (came out) but it just wouldn’t be as popular because it has a different function. It allows you to interact with the world in a different way.

WN: Has Apple expressed interest in your work?

Bull: The head of Apple’s research division contacted me and said he wanted our results, and I said, “I don’t have any.” He wanted the quantity of things, and I said, “Well, I could give a seminar or come talk (about our findings),” and he said, “Well, if there were no results, I can’t make time for you….” Apple is as commercial as any other company, but it has this persona that people seem to be attracted to, which is very strange. I don’t understand those Mac people, even though I have one myself. I’ve got several iPods now, people kept sending me iPods. I’ve never bought one. They’ve all been sent to me for free.

WN: What does the iPod obsession mean, in the bigger picture?

Bull: Media technology is changing very fast, so if we can look at how we use it — this tells us where culture is going … how we inhabit cities and how we construct our daily lives. The iPod is indicating a new way in which consumers wish to act, which is individualism within consumption.

I thank the Jobs every time my iPod saves me from being forced to listen to some random cellphone conversation. So, what do you think? Is the isolation offered by an iPod worrying? Or should we all just pop in some ear buds and rock out?

Reader Comments ( Blog comments on the topic)

· Emory Dunn said :

I think music isolation is fine, and besides how often have you and a budy split up the ear-buds and listened to the SAME ipod. Everyone needs time alone and music is one way to do that, and it better than talking- oops I mean yelling to the world on your bluetooth head set, which is worse than ipod.

· Ryan said :

I think it becomes a social problem sometimes.
Lets say you are a girl and you want to walk up to a guy because he is in your class later in the week. Now do you “interrupt” him to talk to him or just go on about your day.
Dont you ever feel like you’re annoying someone when they have to pause their music and pull out their headphones?

· Tom & Cathy Flynn said :

I’m sure people said the same thing when books became widely available.

· Michael Gray said :

What was the walkman/cd player/ and the minidisc? The Ipod is not the first music device that was portable… in the 80’s there were THOUSANDS of people walking around every day with headphones on – was it that big a deal then? why now?

· ogun7 said :

I live in New York City. Unlike LA or many other places in America, I commute to work by foot and mass transit. In other places, people are able to create their own environment by traveling by car. The iPod allows a little of this in crowded places like NYC. Sometimes I don’t want to hear teenagers being adolescent, or Wall Streeters being capitalist or Upper Eastside’s being consumerist. Sometimes I just want to hear Maxwell and Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan being soulful.

· Yanone said :

I have in fact seen someone standing alone in the corner of a very lively party, one foot on the wall-style, dialing on his iPod instead of talking to a girl or guy. That’s where the above mentioned isolation point gains momentum.
I’m noticing that the constant flow of music nowadays (home, car, friends, clubs, and with iPod even subway and cycling and running and all the rest) causes people to run away from their own emotions (often not knowing about it).
It needs the absence of music to reflect your life (like you have just broken up with your girlfriend) in talks with your friends and on your own in your car. Music distracts your mind and prevents you from reflecting these situations. Reflect. Don’t run away.
Music is maybe right after love the most important thing on earth. Seize the music. But know, when not to.

· Penner said :

Sometimes it seems like new technologies not only supplant old ones, they also erase the memories of the old ones. The iPod comes out, and somehow everyone forgets that we’ve been listening to music (loud) on headphones for almost 30 years now. The Tivo comes out, and people act like it’s the first time we’ve been able to – hey! – record shows.
So I agree. Whatever isolation we may be experiencing, it’s certainly nothing new.

· Victor Agreda Jr said :

Blaming iPods for isolation is a bit like blaming the wheel for car accidents. There are larger forces at work here. True societal isolation or how we’re all becoming targeted little niches has more to do with the advancements in technology and databases and marketing
And this is a gross over-simplification. There are many other factors, including the divorce rate, our growing isolation by subdivision, loss of city-centers, etc…

· Word Diggity said :

I’ve got to say, I don’t normally talk to strangers on the bus or on the street. I think you’ll find this is the case for most people. If I see someone I know, I can turn off the iPod and talk. I really don’t see a problem here.

Personal Case Study

Case I:

It has not been long since I have been introduced to Ipod. Back in May 2008, I insisted my brother to send me an Ipod without realizing its consequences it would make in my personal as well as social life. My life has shown a drastic change since then.

Many of the time when I was alone I used to wander around in search of something that would kill my time. May it be in college, in home or in any other place Ipod accompanies me every time.

Usually at night when I would like to listen to some music I had to think twice to listen to it on my computer or on the music system but with the introduction of Ipod in my life this problem of mine has decreased to some extent because I could switch on to my Ipod whatever time I feel like. In addition to that it also makes me feel secured as if I am in presence of someone else except me.

If I listen to it in a public place it makes me isolated from everyone irrespective of the fact that everyone surrounds me. It somehow helps me think everything in a deeper perspective which would not have been possible without its isolating nature. Another change which I feel Ipod has brought in my life is the illusionary reduction of the distance while traveling has made with the use of post. Boredom and monotony does not exist anymore.

-Gaurav Devkota


Traveling every day for three to four hours has been the most hectic and the most stressing part of my daily routine. Seeing different lives strangled together squashed in the bus was interesting at the beginning, but not any more. Hearing the people talking personal talks loud enough to force you to hear, songs on the player of a very bad test are unbearable. Being disturbed and stressed along with the shaky jolted travel I am tired to think of doing anything creative at home. Trying to study in my room with the sound of TV serials also is disturbing. And at late night study hours I wish I could put on some music to keep myself fresh and awake. There I wish I had a Ipod. And sooner or later I certainly will buy one. I only will be using it in personal times for not being disturbed, so even I it had so negative aspects I consider it worthy to have one.

-Shail Shrestha

Evaluation of the finding

This issue was raised since the time of invention of walkman and radio. But, since there has been no such effect in the social lives, the impact of IPOD also tends to be adjustable.

Blaming the use of Ipod for isolation would be like blaming the wheels for accidents.

With the use of Ipod one can create an invisible personal space for themselves in any conditions from a crowded office hall to a tightly packed local bus situation. Ipod helps create a imaginary walls of sound creating a room with their favorite musicians thus helping spend a quality time for themselves even in extreme conditions thus helping in making daily life easy.

With the massive increase in the population, the cities have become so dense that personal spaces have become impossible to get. In such conditions Ipod and MP3 players has helped to create their personal space in a very little space as well.

Thus, popularity of Ipods and mp3 can only be because of the present lifestyle and a very effective device to improve the daily life of people who can’t afford physical spaces. It has been a cheap way to have personal space for commoners. By letting people get read of the unwanted or forced social life it helps maintain the attitude of people toward social life thus improving the quality of the social life.

Ipod connects people living far away with their family and other relatives. By its use people trace back their moments and remember the times shared together. Ipod, in a sense, doesn’t let people be left alone even in this dislocation culture of the 21st century.

In this rapidly changing world where everyone is busy with some kind of work, Ipod helps them keep busy even if they have little or no work.

Portability is one of the major factor for the popularity of Ipod. After a long days work, while traveling back home Ipod gives us a relaxing sensation when we listen to it. It is also much easier to carry as compared to the music system which has also added to its popularity.

Therefore, Ipod has more positive aspects then its negative points (which still can be reduced or controlled if used properly). So, Ipod is more emancipating in nature than

being regarded as isolating.









4 Responses

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  4. Tatsuhiro Sato said, on October 16, 2013 at 7:59 am

    It has already happened. With shutdown of US Government who is running country? NO ONE! AH! Except for major CORPORATIONS! Well for all intents and purposes, it has finally happened! There is NO L:ONGER United States of America! (Maybe for time being only in name). It is only corporate owned and now ‘governed’ parcel between Canada and Mexico.

    The iPod has been very instrumental in this collapse of United States. SOCIAL ISOLATIONISM! Like many pacifiers throughout history in Nazi Germany, the former Soviet Union (CCCP) DDR or East Germany until its demise, all these autocratic countries had certain systems of public control and pacification. It is called Pavel and his invention, iPod! How convenient to keep general public totally isolated from each other out of invented fictitious fear of so/called terrorists, child molesters, paedophiles, rapists, robbers, and other criminal element.Any concept of neighbour, solidarity, community has now passed into history here between Canada and Mexico.

    Who will now take over this space on planet Earth? Chinese? small groups like indigenous tribes establishing new or resurrected communities (‘Nations’)? Interesting to see what shall happen now that two century plus history of existence of USA has now gotten into annals of history and museum.

    With shutdown by Boehner, this has been final act of States. Now it is for curtain call! (Thanks again to Pavel and his iPod device! A country is of its PEOPLE! COMMUNITY! In order to have community, one needs SOCIAL values and interaction! That is now seriously lacking there in Amerika. IPod has been tool of corporate control, and shameful that it has even exceeded its expectations! So sad.

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