I think you could plausibly argue that the Ipod is one of the greatest inventions of the last 25 years. Obviously, it allows you to select and store the music — or movies, or TV shows — that you like the best. But I think an even more interesting attribute of the Ipod is that it allows you to organize the music however you want. This allows people’s Ipods to be uniquely individualized. Even if people had precisely the same music on their Ipods, the way in which they organized the music would still say a lot about them.
When the kids got me an Ipod, and I realized that you can make playlists, I also realized that the organizational aspect would be as much fun as the initial selection of the music. When you think about it, you can organize music in countless different ways. You can categorize songs by the decade when they were recorded or the decade when you first listened to them. Or, you can classify them by genre, like jazz and classical. Or, you can organize them by subject matter, or how they sound, or where you might hear them. Or, if you really wanted to, you could have a playlist that consisted only of songs that had the word “blue” in the title.
I’ve used all of these approaches (except for the “blue” one); I’ve got playlists called “2 a.m.,” “101 w. 8th,” “dreamtime,” and “political songs,” among others. I’ve also discovered that my initial preconceptions about how I would use the Ipod have been wrong. I am a big Beatles fan, and my first playlist was of Beatles songs. To my surprise, it has turned out to be one of the least played playlists. It is much more entertaining to build playlists where meaningful choices are involved, and where you can, after a time, review the playlist, move songs on, and move songs off. A playlist that consists of only songs by one group — even if the music is as undeniably excellent as the Beatles catalog — is just not as interesting as one where you can put two radically different sounds from radically different musical acts back to back. As a result, I’ve decided that the Beatles playlist is going to hit the cutting room floor, and the songs are going to be moved to other playlists where “Hey Jude,” say, can be followed by Goldfrapp’s “Beautiful.” And then, in a few months, I’ll shuffle them again.