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An Extension to our Lives: the iPod and iPhone

Updated on February 15, 2014

iPhone use

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Touch of a Button

Because of the mp3 player, like the iPod, and smart-phones like the iPhone we now literally have information at the touch of a button 24/7. These devices have altered our lives in ways barely imagined 20 years ago. They are educational, documentary, artistic, cinematic, and so much more and alter our sensory and kinesthetic experiences in so many ways. The mp3 player and the smart-phone have impacted our culture tremendously and is one step toward revolutionizing our world to a point of 100% connectedness. I believe that because these devices exist, we as consumers will always have some sort of narrative to whatever we are doing, whether we are aware of it or not. Want to know the history of the street corner you're on? Ask Google on your iPhone. Can't remember that actress' name? Check IMDb. Can't wait to share your experience at the Dave Matthews Concert? Post your cell phone video on YouTube or Facebook immediately. Because of the smart-phone, we are creating a narrative of our lives in quick, short blurbs. The mp3 player gives us a constant soundtrack to our life, or a supplement to a lecture, or a language tutor, or a comedy skit, and so on.

Cell phones and portable music players have now become an integral part of our culture, all within an older person’s lifetime—a span of about 70 years.

Mobile phones existed as early as the 1940s, but the first mobile phone (known as the First Generation, 1G) available to the public wasn’t until 1983, introduced by the Motorola Company. At this time mobile phones were limited to car phones, which were permanently installed in the floorboards of the automobiles. A few years later, the phones actually became “mobile,” allowing consumers to take the phone with them outside of the car. However, they were very inconvenient because they were the size of a large briefcase and were very expensive, some costing hundreds of dollars. Many consumers were insecure about people being able to listen in on their conversations. As a result, these mobile phones “were more of a status symbol during the decade rather than a means of convenience.” (“Mobile Phones.”)

During the 1990s, significant improvements were made in the technology, known as the Second Generation, or 2G, a new digital technology which was faster and much quieter than its analog predecessor. These phones cost roughly $200 and were much smaller causing the cell phone industry to take off, which soon segued to the Third Generation technology, the technology that is popular in cell phones today. It is capable of transferring voice data, emails, instant messages, and playing music, among other data, which have helped to increase their popularity. Basically, it allows the user to have access to information at their fingertips at any given moment, without having to go to a library or use a computer. Currently in progress is the Fourth Generation, or 4G technology. “Goals for this new set of standards include a combination of technologies that will make information transfer and internet capabilities faster and more affordable for cellular phones.” The 4th Generation is still in its infancy as researchers are still working and building upon the technology that already exists. (“Mobile Phones.”)

The majority of sources credit the transistor radio as being the first portable music player, made available to the public in October 1954. The device was sold for $49.95 by the Regency Division of I.D.E.A. This device was called the Regency TR-1 and was not noticed until the price was dropped in the early 1960s. “It was one of the first technological devices to be thought of as a fashion accessory,” according to Joshua Khan at the Inventor Spot website. Much like the iPod now, the popular portable radio was soon available in many different colors, up to 11, including pink and green. Following the transistor radio, was the boom-box, introduced by various companies in the late 1970s, which did not gain popularity until the 1980s’ when they were shown in music videos and TV segments related to hip hop culture and break-dancing. “Major manufacturers began to make the biggest, loudest and flashiest boom-boxes ever,” once people began showing a vest interest in the portable music device. The boom-box had a cassette player, two or more speakers, radio tuner and an amplifier and was a very successful at the time because of the rising interest in cassettes (Khan).

Just when the boom-box gained popularity, something smaller entered the market. Sony introduced the Walkman and Discman. The Walkman became a major success as a cassette-based music player. The idea of the Walkman was ingenious—a personal music player on which you could play your favorite cassette tapes. However, the excitement didn’t last long when a new digital medium entered the market—the compact disc. Many people think the first Discman came out in the early 1990s, but it was really in 1986. Consumers wanted to hear the “perfect sound” of the compact disc (Khan).

Just over a decade later, in March 1998, the first MP3 player was introduced; containing 32 MB of storage (small by today’s standards), Saehan’s MPMan F10 had the capacity to hold ten songs. This new technology gave companies new ideas for creating portable music players. At the forefront of innovation, Apple was the next company to release a MP3 player by releasing their very first MP3 player in October of 2001, infamously called the iPod which now dominates the industry. There are 13 variations of the iPod, including the iPod mini, iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle, iPod Classic and the iPod Touch (Khan).

One can play video games, surf the Web, take pictures and watch movies all on their iPod and other MP3 players (Akinwande). But why stop there? Apple had the ingenious idea of combining the two technologies of a smart phone and an MP3 player. Their most recent model, the iPhone 3GS, according to the Apple website, is “the fastest, most powerful iPhone yet. iPhone 3GS features video recording, Voice Control, up to 32GB of storage and more.”

The first thing a user will notice about the new phone is how quickly the device will launch applications. Web pages and email attachments load much faster. An “incredible gaming experience” is also possible with enhanced performance and 3D graphics. The website also claims that that “everything you do on iPhone 3GS is up to 2x faster and more responsive than iPhone 3G.” (“iPhone: Introducing iPhone 3GS.”)

Who knew that it would ever be possible to shoot video, edit, and immediately share it with friends, all from a phone? The iPhone 3GS is capable of shooting high-quality VGA video in portrait or landscape format, then allow the user to trim the footage and share the video by sending an email, posting it online via YouTube and/or sync it to their computer via iTunes. The camera also takes phenomenal still photos with the built-in autofocus and a new feature that allows the user to tap the display to focus on anything or anyone (“iPhone: Introducing iPhone 3GS”).

In addition, there’s the Voice Control, which can be used for both making calls and playing music. It “recognizes the names in your Contacts and knows the music on your iPod. So if you want to place a call or play a song, all you have to do is ask,” the website raves, by simply saying ‘call John Doe’ or ‘play music by The Killers’ and the device will repeat the command to confirm the task (“iPhone: Introducing iPhone 3GS”).

There are so many things that the iPhone can do via these applications, or “apps” for short. There is the Compass, and Maps, which is the built-in GPS system. Users can create new documents by cutting, copying, and pasting words and photos, even between applications and from the internet. The list goes on and on. The iPhone 3GS is essentially the personal computer as a hand-held device. It includes a search tool to allow the user to find what they are looking for throughout their iPhone and built-in iPod. In the messages app, it is possible to “send messages with text, video, photos, audio, locations and contact information. You can even forward one or more messages to others,” the Apple website tells readers.

Visually or hearing impaired? No problem! The iPhone 3GS offers features for such users including a Zoom feature, a VoiceOver screen reader, White on Black display, and more. Need to remember something? Make an audio note of it! Record a meeting or a lecture, a random thought, or any other audio recording on the new Voice Memos application (“iPhone: Introducing iPhone 3GS”).

The list continues: users can track stocks, watch YouTube videos, even find a misplaced iPhone by using the MobileMe service. By using any device with internet access, users can log on to me.com to view a map that shows the estimated location of their phone. The Apple website describes this app, “If it is nearby, have the phone play an alert sound to help you find it. If it’s not, you can display a custom message, remotely lock it with a passcode, or initiate a remote wipe and restore it to factory settings.” (“iPhone: Introducing iPhone 3GS”).

And users can personalize their iPhone even more by adding more apps from the App Store via iTunes or online. In a nutshell, the iPhone 3GS is a phone, music player, and Internet device all in one. It offers “desktop-class email, an amazing Maps application, and Safari—the world’s most advanced mobile web browser,” the website continues. (“iPhone: Introducing iPhone 3GS”).

Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, PA

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Interactive Projects

These media have been used in multiple projects all over the world. One project is one called [murmur], which consists of recording stories and memories of various geographic locations throughout a neighborhood. Ordinary citizens can record their own stories that can be specific personal experience or more of a historical nature (or both). In each location where someone has a story to tell, a [murmur] sign is installed which has a telephone number on it. Anyone with a cell phone can call that phone number and listen to the recorded message while standing in that exact spot or as the recording suggests, walk around the location. (Micaellef, et al).

The website doesn’t specify, but I think the [murmur] web URL should be posted on the sign as well so the participants can find other locations have signs and listen to their recordings if someone has a smart-phone, or internet accessible MP3 player.

This [murmur] project gave me the idea to create my own locative media project, which I summarized from the original posting. The “unofficial” name is a Walking/Driving tour of Sellersville and Perkasie, PA. This would involve several different communications methods, primarily the iPod and the cell phone, preferably an iPhone. In each location of the tour, there would be a sign with a telephone number for the tourist to call and listen to a narrative, very similar to the [murmur] project. Some tourists will have already downloaded the recording as a podcast. Each location will have a separate podcast. The podcasts would be a narrative of the location’s history and place in the community. With the podcasts, participants will receive an itinerary of things to do at each location, which can also be accessed online. At the end of each podcast there would be a recording promoting the website and those with an iPhone can easily access the website right away. If the participant has a traditional cell phone, they can simply stay on the phone to learn more about the specific location of where they are in the tour. I came up with this idea because it increases participation from community members so they can learn more about the place where they live. It also increases participation from people who may be just visiting, which increases meaning because they’ll then learn about a community that is different from theirs.

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have also done a similar project. They have recorded audio walks and video walks of various geographical locations. Their audio or video walks are essentially a tour guide especially because they are recorded with various sounds as if the recordings are live and Janet’s voice is giving directions such as “turn right here” or “go through this doorway.” The recording has natural sights and sounds the place that is being narrated in order to “create a new world as a seamless combination of the two. My voice gives directions but also relates thoughts and narrative elements, which instills in the listener a desire to continue and finish the walk,” the description reads on the website (Cardiff, et al).

These three projects are prime examples of an educational experience using new media technology, specifically the smart-phone and MP3 player. After writing all of this, I can’t help but be reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s famous quote “the medium is the message.” This means that the perceived meaning of a message is inevitably altered by the form the message is delivered in—either through print, visual, or other media forms. For example, the effects of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 are inevitably experienced differently when watched on a TV screen then when they are read about in the newspaper through still photos and words. It is the same idea with walking through campus. Many college students would have a very different experience if they were not listening to their music or talking on their cell phones. We would be forced to interact with each other and have physical relationships with the people around us.

This goes to show that McLuhan was right in his argument in “The Medium is the Message”: “modern electronic communications (including radio, television, films, and computers) would have far-reaching sociological, aesthetic, and philosophical consequences, to the point of actually altering the ways in which we experience the world.”

The McLuhan's Wake documentary also touches on the “the medium is the message” and specifically talks about the cell phone. It portrays a certain type of lifestyle, status, a user’s fear of disconnectedness from the outside world, but also a fear of face to face interaction. Distracting oneself with an iPod or iPhone also sends a message through body language. It says that the user is too busy with their own thing to care about the person sitting next to them on the train or walking beside them down the street. It promotes the attitude that the user is anti-social, when in reality they could be extremely social, just not with the people they are physically near. This plays into another one of McLuhan’s ideas—technology as extensions of the human body. We create technologies that expand our senses. These technologies change us and our sensory experiences and how we interpret and interact with the world around us.

“An extension occurs when an individual or society makes or uses something in a way that extends the range of the human body and mind in a fashion that is new,” explains Todd Kappelman on the Probe Ministries article about Marshall McLuhan. For example, the shovel we use for digging is an extension of the hands and feet. The automobile is an extension of the feet allowing us to travel places faster, less effort, and in more comfort especially in extreme weather conditions. But at the same time, the automobile is a form of pollution, minimizes the amount of human interaction we have since we so often drive alone, and also minimize the amount of exercise we get making us less healthy. Another example is the telephone because it extends the human voice, but diminishes written penmanship, at least in the traditional sense according to McLuhan. Since the advent of the iPhone and other smart phones, it has extended other forms of communication. As users of the smart phone, we are extending our thoughts, ideas, and experiences. We are sharing our lives with other people in ways never before imagined. The iPod and the iPhone are extensions of our personalities, of our workplaces, of our families and friendships. These devices are also extensions of the way we learn, not only in the classroom, but also in the world around us. In a sense Kappelman points out that they can be an extension of the brain because they are storing information for us to remember and to learn.

Not everyone has an iPod or iPhone (or more broadly, a smart phone or portable music player/MP3 player), but these communication devices are definitely prominent in our society. We don’t chose to have these devices as narratives to our lives, if we are even aware that we are doing so by adding a soundtrack when we listen to Lady Gaga or The Jonas Brothers. The iPhone supplements our lives in so many ways—as a dictionary, translator, GPS, video and still camera, alarm, entertainment provider, information guru and so much more. Information is instantaneously available and so is our best friend’s status update. Both the iPod and the iPhone are guides to our past, present and future as technology is constantly evolving. They are connections to the community, especially to the “global village” as McLuhan put it so eloquently because through these new media, we are now connected to people all over the world, not just to those within physical proximity.

[murmur] interactive

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