Ethan, my first grandson, turned five years old last August. Like most five year olds he’s a combination of energy, inquisitiveness, joy, and occasional mischief. Leave him alone for ten minutes and you never know what’s going to be spilled, turned over, broken, or missing when you return. Experience has taught me it’s always a good idea to keep close watch on a five year old.
There’s another five year old that we might keep a close watch on. I’m referring to the iPod. This past Monday, the iPod turned 5. That’s right. It’s only been five years since the appearance of the ubiquitous machine that has now sold over 65 million units. It makes me feel very old to think that in my lifetime music listening has evolved from the radio, to the 45 rpm, to the album, to the 8-track (thankfully a short-lived era), to the cassette, to the CD, to digital music. I still remember the time one of my kids held up an LP and said, “Look, Mom! A big black CD!”
The benefits of the iPod are many and obvious. We can carry our entire music collection in the palm of our hand. We can listen to our favorite music whenever we like and not interrupt anyone else. Or we can play it through speakers at home, in our car, or at the office. We can download Podcasts and catch up on the latest news, sports, or sermon. I’ve actually encountered God in some significant ways as I’ve listened to messages while running. (See here and some of the comments below for more reasons the iPod is a gift of common grace from God.)
So what could be the problem? Well, it seems that any advance in technology carries with it inherent and unforeseen problems if it’s abused. Consider what the iPod has also made possible.
Rebellious teens used to retreat to their bedrooms to get away from everything. Now they can just slip on their headphones. I admit that when I’m studying in a coffee shop, I’ll often put on my in-ear phones to block out my surroundings. However, it’s not uncommon in social settings to see people tune in to their iPod and tune out their friends, family, parents, and the world in general.
You can now download just about any kind of music and image on to an iPod. In his report on iPod’s birthday, Al Mohler writes:
As the iPod has added video and photographs to its entertainment package, the technology becomes a potential platform for pornography as well as for operatic productions. Who knows what lurks in the iPod your teenager cradles like a life-saving device?
Kids no longer have CD cases or record cases lying around for their parents to find. So it’s no longer very difficult to listen to music their parents don’t approve of. It can all be hidden away on their iPod hard drive.
At one time listening to a song twice in a row meant moving the record arm over to the beginning of the song, or rewinding the cassette. Now we can listen to a song 5, 10, 50 times in a row. We can listen to the same CD repeatedly. Is it wise to listen to any music constantly? I’m not sure. I know it’s definitely unwise and potentially harmful to listen to some music repeatedly. (I elaborate on this point in a comment below).
Having control of the music we hear 24/7 can feed the mentality that we determine what happens in our lives. We NEVER have to listen to music we don’t like. The music we listen to becomes an extension of our identity. In some cases it IS our identity. Those who don’t like our music become those we don’t like.
As I’ve thought about how I want to use my iPod, I’ve come up with these thoughts:
- Only isolate yourself when you should be isolated. Don’t use your music to escape serving or interacting with others.
- Limit the amount of time you use your iPod. Silence is a profitable state that is fast becoming a relic of the past.
- Seek to listen to a broad spectrum of musical styles.
- Consider how to bless others through your music choices, rather than yourself.
And a few thoughts for parents:
- Make sure your kids know that owning an iPod, or any music storage device, is a privilege to be earned, not a right to be demanded.
- Set limits on usage for your kids. Help them keep track of how much music they’re actually listening to.
- Don’t allow the car to become a personal iPod refuge. Let kids use it for portions of long trips, but encourage conversation and interaction at other times.
- Know what’s on your child’s iPod. It’s usually what’s in their iTunes library. Check out lyrics, lifestyles, and websites of artists together.
- Listen to music as a family.
- If you’re musically gifted, put your iPods away for one evening a week, and make your own music together. You might be surprised how good you actually sound.
The iPod is like any five year old. It can bring great joy to your life, but it’s a good idea to keep a close watch on it.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil. 4:8).