- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2007

Today, thoughts on advertising and why the IPod constitutes a blow for culture, sanity, and civilization.

Two types of advertising exist. One is demure, courteous and unaggressive. Newspaper ads are examples. I open the paper to read about some massacre or other, and an ad for a new camera is on the right half of the page. It tells me that the thing has 50 gigapixels, great lenses, records movies and makes coffee — in general why it’s a splendid camera and I should buy it.

Fine. If I want a camera, the ad is useful. Otherwise I can ignore it.

Also in the civilized category are the computer-generated ads from Google you see at the bottom or sides of many Web sites. These are technically slick. The software analyzes the page and tries to offer ads that would interest the viewer. But the ads don’t do anything obnoxious. They just sit there.

The other kind of advertising, as for example on television, is force-fed, intrusive, unpleasant and usually electronic. These pitches are calculatedly loud, jump around a lot and never stop. Most people hate them (most people I know, anyway). The infrared remote control with its mute button was some help, but a nuisance. Then came set-top boxes with hard drives that let people record shows and eliminate the commercials.

The advertisers went crazy, of course, because they make their money by forcing people to watch annoying ads.

In the same class are pop-up and pop-under ads on the Web that you have to close before you read the page.

Pop-up blockers work pretty well to eliminate these, but once again we have the technological race between advertisers and those who want to protect themselves from ads. Now the Web suffers ads that move to obscure the page you are reading until you do something about them, or they finally disappear.

Radio is no better. Until recently, the only way to escape the unending yammer of advertising on a car radio was to play CDs instead. The problem was the nuisance of changing the CD, possibly causing a five-car wreck as you fiddled with the thing. Six-disc changers appeared in cars. Better, but not perfect.

But now — aha! I recently bought an 8-gigabyte IPod Nano, from Apple. For readers who are not teenagers, this is a gadget smaller than a Heath bar that holds music — lots of music. The cute thing about the Nano is that it is solid-state, without moving parts. You can get IPods and IPod clones with much greater capacity, but they use small hard drives. Things that move eventually fail.

Just now, I have 1,506 “songs”— some are full symphonies — amounting to four full days of music, on my Nano, and I’ve only used almost 6 of 8 gigabytes. Technology being what it is, in short order there will be IPod Nanos with 16 and then 32 gigabytes. At that point almost all of us will be able to carry in a shirt pocket all the music we ever actually listen to. It’s easy to use. Apple clearly thought a bunch about the design.

Today, you can buy car adaptors for IPods. They are outrageously expensive ($450 I have seen) since they can’t consist of much more that a wire (“line out”) and a tiny power supply. Presumably that will change.

Bingo. You have a massive library of music, easily organized into whatever categories you want — country, classical, what have you — and no shrieking ads. All in a tiny removable box that never breaks.

Maybe it’s not quite up there with the invention of printing, but I claim it’s close.

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