What Are You Listening To?

I met Todd for lunch today. He asked me that while I was disconnecting myself from my iPod. I could have kissed him.

You see, no one’s asked me that question for years, and I have no idea why. Despite the proliferation of portable music devices, I never hear anybody ask that. Back in the eighties and early nineties, with our bulky , cassette-playing Walkmans, we asked that all the time. There were whole marketing campaigns built around that question. Why the change? Some possible answers:

  • Technology evolution. Now people ask people using Play Station Portables and portable DVD players “what are you playing?” and “what are you watching?”
  • Music balkanization. Top 40 is dying, and people are getting tired of not knowing the song when they get an answer: “Oh, yeah, MC Ouagadoogoo, I, uh, love his stuff.”
  • Device proliferation. Everybody’s got one now, so it’s no longer a novel question.

What do you think? For the record, I was listening to the Cowboy Junkies cover “License to Kill”, which I blogged about here.


  1. Ever since Walkmans achieved mainstream acceptance (yeah, I’m that old) I’ve been fascinated by the concept of everyone dragging around a personal soundtrack to their life. I have the urge quite often to stop strangers and ask them what they’re listening to, but so far I’ve been too reluctant to interrupt.

  2. I point people to my Audioscrobbler when they ask me what I’m listening to. I heard say that it will also list what I’m listening to on my iPod, but I have no confirmation of that.

    What we really need is something that displays on your person, on an LCD screen, what you’re currently listening to on your digital music player of choice. I saw a guy on the train today who was wearing a KEXP shirt and wanted to say “hey dude, nice shirt, KEXP rocks” but he got off before I had a chance. But if a nice cute shy girl had a display of the music she was bopping to on her earphones, I’d be much more inclined to give her a smile or the “hey, I’d like to talk to you” facial signal because now I have two pieces of information instead of one: her physical attractiveness and what kind of music she likes.

  3. Cowboy Junkies are always an excellent choice!

    I always ask people what they’re listening to. If I don’t know who the band/artist is, I ask more questions. A large part of this comes from the fact that I have given up on listening to commercial radio. If I want to find new music to listen to, I need to get the exposure from somewhere.

  4. I sat right in the both in front of you at the restaurant, read my magazine, a functional spec and enjoyed my eggs. I was going to say hi but it seemed like a client meeting, so I didn’t want to disrupt. Have you ever tried their cherry coke?

  5. To me it’s the opposite, at a couple of places I contract for people sometimes “announce” what they are listening to through AIM chatrooms and others then stream that music through iTunes sharing. Sometimes we also ask around but it’s a kind of broadcast that’s used so you end up not having to ask but still discovering stuff.

  6. Hey, I ask friends and aquaintances all the time what they’re listening to, if they’ve got headphones or a music player with them. They usually answer the question with an embarassed darting of the eyes and hushed tones…the same way I get when I have to lie to cover up the fact that I’ve currently got Gwen Stefani on rotation.

    I’m sorry! How long do I have to keep apologizing for this?!?!?

    By the way, there seems to be a problem with displaying the em-dash in comments.

  7. Celia: Thanks for that tip on that. I can’t wait for the next version of MT, so that I don’t have to depend on my dodgy Blacklist installation anymore.

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