Posted Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Book Review: The Cult of iPod, by Leander Kahney

I'd have finished my review of Leander Kahney's newest book, The Cult of iPod, sooner, but I spent entirely too much time gazing at page 18.

Those of you who already own the book can probably understand. The rest of you will have to buy a copy and find out for yourselves.

You won't regret it. The Cult of iPod is a superb celebration of Apple's iPod and its impact on our listening habits, on the music industry, and on our culture.

And on graphic design: The Cult of iPod is full of visual tributes to iPod iconography. The book's covers mimic the front and back of an iPod, though I pray I never have to operate a scroll wheel like the one pictured on the front cover. The table of contents looks like iTunes. The opening art of each chapter is a photo of an iPod, with the chapter's title appearing where the song name would be. And next to each page number is a small battery icon—that, by page 151, has lost its charge. (The book's publisher, No Starch Press, has not yet announced a battery-replacement program.)

The Cult of iPod's 160 pages are packed with stories, observations, and photos that document the iPod's rise to stardom. We learn about Tony Fadell, the "father of the iPod," and see an illustration of an iPod prototype—housed in a shoebox-sized case to thwart industrial espionage. And we read a quote that should forever haunt The Mac Observer editor-in-chief Bryan Chaffin, who said of the original iPod, "the name is stupid, and the price is too high."

Let's put The Cult of iPod into shuffle mode to see what else is inside. iPod viral marketing (don't miss George Masters' homebrew iPod ad). iPod bling (Fendi's $1500 iPod carrying case and Goldster Audio's $4300 Concertino, a tube-based iPod amplifier). MP3Js (iPod-based DJ sessions where you can play your own tunes). iPod hacks (viewing 3D photos using two iPods mounted side-by-side, mounting a pair of iPod shuffles on either side of a pair of sunglasses, among others). iPod scams (weird pyramid schemes, often conducted through eBay, aimed at getting you to pony up for a "chance" to buy an iPod for $40). Services that will make a photo you submit look like an iPod ad (I'm deeply offended that Leander Kahney didn't ask to run my iPoodle photo in the book).

Kahney also examines the cultural implications of a world where we're all walking around with white earbuds in our ears instead of interacting with each other. Is that good or bad? In an interview with Michael Bull, a lecturer in media studies and culture at the University of Sussex in the U.K., we read the sad bottom line: "How often do you talk to people in public anyway?"

If you're reading a copy of The Cult of iPod in public, you may find yourself interacting more than you might otherwise. It's an engaging and entertaining book that draws you—and onlookers—in.

The Cult of iPod sells for $16.47 on Highly recommended.