Noted media-analyst Marshall McLuhan once said that light is information without a message. I could probably argue that in a poetic sense, but considering how much darkness without a message is about these days, there’s probably not much point. Put it down to cognitive dissonance, occult static or just background noise. But there are a lot of reality tunnels out there that need some serious re-tuning – and fast.
By now, Apple should have released the iPod mini to the rest of the world. The message, with or without light, seems to be that it will add further momentum to the iPod, which is already the world’s leading digital-music player. The iPod mini, of course, is the world’s smallest portable music player to hold up to 1,000 CD-quality songs. It’s encased in an ultra-portable, lightweight anodized aluminium body, is available in five colours, and features the click-wheel for effortless one-handed operation, along with the same award-winning user interface as the rest of the iPod family. According to Apple, it works effortlessly with iTunes, the world’s number-one digital-music service, and should contribute substantially to next year’s profits. Or will it?
So far, the iPod mini hasn’t quite had the same positive impact as the original iPod, and quite a few owners have complained about the habitually crackling sound quality. According to some disgruntled music lovers this new, smaller, cheaper version of the original cash cow has a tendency to distort tunes and simply stop mid-song. It also seems to have a knack for making a horrible static noise after just a few short weeks use. The crackling or static has been compared to the noise of bad radio reception. According to some reports sometimes the sound will just disappear completely. Apple has admitted that some owners have suffered from a few problems, but so far the only aid on offer is the help-line.
OK... most new kit comes complete with teething problems and the occasional glitch. But considering that Apple has made such a huge impact with iTunes and has sold over a million original iPods since 2001, it isn’t in anyone’s interest to release a new, less-satisfactory product into the same market. In this case, the medium is definitely the message, and considering the fact that Microsoft and various other players would desperately like to grab this market, sending the wrong one could have a particularly serious impact on those previously mentioned profits.
Apple has always been good at concepts, though not always quite so good with implementations. But the iPod, and particularly iTunes, have been both terrific concepts and brilliant implementations. iTunes has done amazing things for musicians, and has given the music industry as a whole a much-needed disruptive shake. When you can have the music you want, when you want it and at a particularly reasonable price, then chances are you’ll be less susceptible to the twisted machinations of the manufactured record industry. In the long term, it would be nice to think that artists wouldn’t even have to have a record company affiliation in order to sell their work on iTunes, and that eventually most music buyers would choose music simply because they liked the tune rather than the fact that it was in some chart, had an expensive video, or was being force-fed through some other sort of immature, consensual media madness.
Which is why I started thinking that maybe Apple should continue to Think Different and expand the whole concept. For example, if iTunes works so well, why not set up an iPoem site? Considering how little most people know about contemporary poetry and how difficult it is to find any in high-street bookshops, why not provide a way for people to buy poems they like for a similar price as a song on iTunes, instead of whole collections or anthologies? Poetry books have traditionally been published by smaller presses and many poets get published only in relatively small print-runs. Distribution is also problematic. With an iPoem site, you could browse various poems and download your favourites. Poems could come from existing publishers, little magazines, or perhaps even from audio magazines of poets reading their own work recorded at poetry events.
Yes, I know that poetry in text formats would be easy to copy without actually purchasing. But then again, poetry’s never really had a lot of problems with piracy – apart from TS Eliot’s observation that immature poets are influenced, while mature poets steal. I’m sure there’d be a lot of co-operation from small presses and few larger publishers. There’s no reason why even the classical poets shouldn’t have work up on such a site. I’m sure a lot of GCSE and even A-level students would be interested in downloading the particular poems they need for a course rather than necessarily having to buy a book or anthology. No, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from buying a book. But who knows – if someone has to download a few poems for a course and discovers a few more that they actually like, well, then maybe they’ll download some more or perhaps even go out and try to buy a whole book. And why stop at poetry? How about an iComic site where you could download all the best Bill Hicks routines?
Despite all the crackle and static, poetry can often be both light and information. And the best of it can often even manage to alleviate some of the darkness. But even poetry requires a degree of choice and discretion, and an iPoem site could expand on that. As TS Eliot once said, “Never commit yourself to a cheese without having first examined it”.