Our Media is Getting More and More Private

I really liked the little thesis behind this Slate piece by Mark Oppenheimer. It’s the sort of thing I wish I’d thought of myself:

Remember when you could tell a lot about a guy by what cassette tapes–Journey or the Smiths?–littered the floor of his used station wagon? No more, because now the music of our lives is stored on MP3 players and iPhones. Our important papers live on hard drives or in the computing cloud, and DVDs are becoming obsolete, as we stream movies on demand. One by one, the meaningful artifacts that we used to scatter about our apartments and cars, disclosing our habits to any visitor, are vanishing from sight.

I’ve said it before, but in my youth, when somebody greeted somebody else wearing a, uh, Walkman, they’d frequently ask them “what are you listening to?” I regularly encounter people while wearing headphones, and nobody asks me that. Do they already know that my taste in music is abhorrent?

On a related note, I’ve always thought that big public art galleries would be exceptional places to meet members of the opposite sex. There always seem to be lots of people standing alone looking at the art. They’re likely to be interesting people because, hey, they’re in an art gallery. On top of all that, there are conversation starters hung all over the walls. In the context of Oppenheimer’s article, galleries are one of the remaining ‘public’ media consumption channels.


  1. I wonder what people listen to, but unless it comes up in conversation or is a friend, I would feel intrusive asking (ie work colleagues, someone @ gym, etc).

    I consider it to be part of the evolution in the ease/commonness of personal headset/earbuds. Everyone and their dog is listening to something, if I asked people I wouldn’t stop asking, and I don’t have time to get into that conversation with everyone.

    I think that in the past the “what are you listening to?” worked as a great invitation to conversation, and functioned similarly (but not as frequently) like the ” eh?” that invites (invited?) feedback . A polite interest.

  2. I always thought galleries would be great places to talk to people too, but it’s never happened that way for me. In fact, I feel like people are more interested in being wrapped up in their own world while looking at art.

    I still feel that the grocery store is the place I’ve had the most conversations with strangers. There’s something about being trapped in a long line doing nothing that helps you strike up a conversation with the person standing in front/behind you.

  3. Now I have only gone to art galleries solo a couple of times, and never been disturbed while doing so, but, in response, to colene (above) I have been “approached” several times in grocery stores (this has abated over the years, but is still known to happen)… and no I don’t know what dishwashing soap is the best one, or how to tell if that melon is ripe or not…

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