In the last few years, we've seen the rise of gadget porn �images and text that glorify high-end or high-tech devices and gadgets. Sure, certain segments of the population have always been gadget-driven: audiophiles, car junkies, the power-tool crazed. But there's something about technology that has taken the craving for gizmos to a new level. As Washington Post technology reporter Mark Leibovich has said, "More than most realms, technology tends to breed fetishistic dedication."
It's the gadget-as-fetish angle that most clearly captures this technolust . Wired magazine, never known for its subtlety, comes right to the point: each month it runs a column that features the latest high-tech toys. The column's name? "Fetish."
Personal digital assistants have been the fetish objects of choice over the past few years, with first the Palm Pilot and more recently the BlackBerry�PDAs being the must-have tools of millions of gadget freaks. (The BlackBerry engenders such obsession in its users that it has earned the nickname CrackBerry .)
Fans of Apple Computer Inc.'s products have always had a cultlike air about them, but their desire reached truly crazed heights with the release of the iMac desktop computer in the late 1990s. This blobject (an object with a curvilinear, flowing design) was suddenly everywhere and spawned a whole generation of what came to be called cuddletech �technology seen or marketed as being cute, friendly, or just plain cuddly.
But Apple's current talisman isn't the latest iMac or the iBook or the G5; it is, by a long way, the iPod digital music player. As I write this, Apple has sold a remarkable 6 million iPods since 2001, but 2 million of those were sold in the most recent quarter, and analysts were expecting nearly 3 million of them to be sold over the 2004 Christmas season. The technology industry has rarely, if ever, seen a product generate such a gotta-have-it mania. (People love the iPod so much that they're also buying other Apple products. This boost to Apple's bottom line is called the iPod halo effect .)
Proof that the iPod obsession has gone from fad to phenomenon is the abundance of new words and phrases that have sprung up around this digital doodad. For example, users are often called iPodders or pod people , and the distinctive white cord that connects the earbuds to the player is why iPod users as a whole have been called the white-cord subculture .
New York writer Izzy Grinspan says that iPods have "L-train sex appeal," meaning that the easily recognized design of the iPod�the earbuds and player are white, as well�allows anyone to "identify a user at 30 yards, so that it's possible to scan a subway car and instantly know who's in the club." The members of that club greet each other with the iPod nod , but they're increasingly doing a lot more than that.
The latest iPod craze is podjacking , plugging your cord into the jack of another person's iPod (and vice versa, of course) to hear what that person is listening to. This is also called iPod sharing , jack sharing , or the iPod swap . Similar behavior occurs at an iPod party (or iParty ) where iPodders are allowed to plug their iPods into a club's stereo system so that everyone can dance to a song or two from that person's playlist.
The iPod was also the inspiration behind the word podcasting , a new technology that aggregates audio content into easily downloadable files. The audio material is gathered by a podcaster and stored on a server. The user connects the player to the computer and then downloads the material, a process known as podcatching . The group of people who listen to such a podcast is called�wait for it�the podience .
References to iPods abound in popular culture, from commercials to comic strips to op-ed columns. iPodlounge (http://www.ipodlounge.com) calls these references iPodisms and maintains a long list of them on its site. The iPod has become so desired that it's causing iPod envy among those unfortunate few who have yet to purchase it or receive one as a gift.
That's not to say, however, that everything is hunky-dory in the iPod world. Some people complain of playlistism : being judged by others based on what songs are on one's iPod playlist. ("You're still listening to Outkast? That's so 2004.") Others are tired of being recognized as iPod users, so they've traded in the white cord and earbuds for other colors, thus putting themselves voluntarily in the iPod closet .
Then there's the group of users who find themselves listening to music obsessively throughout the day and so suffer from iPod fatigue or, in extreme cases, outright iPod addiction . Some of these iPodaholics have admitted they have a problem and quit their players cold turkey to live a clean and sober post-iPod life .
About the Author
PAUL McFEDRIES is a technical and language writer with more than 40 books to his credit. He also runs Word Spy, a Web site and mailing list that tracks new words and phrases (http://www.wordspy.com/).