iPod, therefore iAm (what iAm)

I had one of those moments of techno-transcendence this morning on the MARC train as I rolled into Washington, D.C. So the mass-media side of me is looking around the train, noticing that about half of the people are wearing iPods or iPod wannabees. The older iPod people are listening and reading -- books or newspapers. The younger people are just plugged in.

Then the journalist in me notes a Jose Antonio Vargas story that someone is reading in The Washington Post. You can guess the topic, and the headline sort of says half the equation in a blunt, materialist fashion: "The iPod: A Love Story Between Man, Machine."

I, of course, start thinking again about the role music plays in self-identity and, thus, in religious faith. GetReligion has visited this topic before, of course.

Please understand that I am interested in some of the openly religious commercial applications of this new form of personal technology. I am even interested in the religious leaders who have started thinking about the implications of the iPod for religious expression in this age (check this out, on a slightly different topic). I am not even talking about the neo-cult status of Steve Jobs and Apple, although the last Windows machine in my personal life should leave the house within a matter of days.

No, I am talking about the spiritual implications of people -- supposedly secular people, even -- making statements such as this:

"If a song represents a memory in your head, then you listen to your life's memories -- faster than a mixed CD, definitely faster than a mixed tape -- as you listen to your iPod," says the affable, fast-talking Berkowitz, a project manager for a software company, as he sits in his downtown Washington office. "It becomes an extension of you," he says. "It's like a window to your soul."

And then again there is this issue, which raises issues of cultural assimilation and cultural isolationism -- at the same time. Does the iPod make you a part of a culture or does it help you avoid it? What if the answer is "yes"?

Fatima Ayub, wearing a white chiffon hijab that matches her iPod's white earphones, is walking briskly on R Street in Northwest Washington on her way to work. You'd hardly ever see her, she says, without her 15-gigabyte iPod, which has more than 1,300 songs on it.

"Your taste in music is something very personal, very emotional. So when you have an iPod and you've got all your music on it, you're trying to say something about yourself," says Ayub, 22, an associate for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch and a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University. She's listening to "A Perfect Sonnet" by the indie rock group Bright Eyes as she sits on a curb near 18th and R streets. Her boyfriend, Imran, learned to play that song on his guitar for her, she says, cracking a shy smile. "You're making a little collection of emotions and memories for yourself and you stick them all in this little machine and you carry it around with you wherever."

Has anyone seen someone sitting in a religious sanctuary with an iPod on? Or have many people already chosen a congregation that fits in with the style and content of their iPod? Questions, questions.

P.S. tmatt's iPod mix for this morning's ride was the Byrds, with a heavy emphasis -- I confess -- on spaced-out David Crosby tunes. I don't think "Triad" is about the Nicene Creed.

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