June 17, 2009

BOOKS: iPod and Philosophy, D.E. Wittkower, editor (2008)

There are now more than 30 volumes in the "Popular Culture and Philosophy" series from Open Court Press, each of which presents a collection of essays for the layman on various philosophical issues as seen through the lens of some pop culture icon. Zombies, Johnny Cash, James Bond, Battlestar Galactica, The Simpsons -- they've all had their own volumes.

They're entertaining books, though a certain sameness sets in if you read too many in too short a span; TV and movie storytelling, whatever characters you're dealing with, tends to lend itself to discussion of certain philosophical ideas more than others. But this volume, only the second in the series to deal with a machine (see also volume 18: Harley-Davidson and Philosophy), heads into territory I hadn't run across in the other volumes I've read, and it's a refreshing change.

Alf Rehn's "Wittgenstein's iPod, or, The Familiar Among Us" gets the book off to a fine start, exploring the notion of familiarity. Just how is it that we can be presented with a white iPod Nano, a black iPod Touch, and a bright red iPod Classic, and recognize them all as being the "same" somehow? Scott F. Parker makes the case for the iPod as an educational device in "Philosophy by iPod: Wisdom to the People," and Daniel Sturgis's "Today's Cheaters, Tomorrow's Visionaries" argues that the iPod moves us one step closer to a culture in which remembering information (as opposed to being able to quickly access it) is seen as an irrelevant luxury.

Not all of the essays are successful. Joseph C. Pitt's "Don't Talk to Me" presents the obligatory grumpy-old-man argument that the iPod is isolating us from one another and destroying Society As We Know It; Jon Austin's "The Unbeatable Whiteness of the iPod" goes overboard in presenting the displacement of (black) vinyl records by the (white) iPod as a statement about global race relations.

The collection as a whole, though, is entertaining and thought-provoking, and it's worth taking a look at the volumes devoted to your own particular interests. (Here's the full list.) As for me, I'm off to see if my library has yet ordered the newest volume -- Stephen Colbert and Philosophy.

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