Life

Life Begins At Nano

Female, over 30 and overstressed? Virtue is just a podcast away.

By Shannon Rupp 26 Dec 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Shannon Rupp is The Tyee's most virtuous contributing editor. Her BN columns can be read here.

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As the annual electronics frenzy begins -- incidentally, when did Boxing Day morph into Boxing "week"? -- it's worth noting that on the list of entertainment gizmos we love, there's only one that makes us better people: the iPod is the Virtue Machine.

Thanks to the medium it spawned, podcasts, the iPod is an essential tool in the grand campaign for self-improvement -- or at least getting the laundry done.

Judging by my own life, I'd have expected every middle-aged woman with too many tedious tasks would have adopted earbuds as jewellery. But an Ipsos poll in 2006 reported that, while MP3s have hooked about 20 per cent of Americans over 12, more than half of buyers are teens. A third of users fall into the 18 to 34 age bracket, but only 13 per cent of 35- to 54-year-olds reported toting virtue in a three-inch package. Astoundingly, two-thirds of all users are male.

How can this be, when my kind has way more reason to need an iPod -- that is, way more ugly reality to escape -- than those club-hopping kids? Unlike other entertainment technology, which tends to keep us on our lardy butts, the iPod actually drives me to tackle life's chores, which now come with a roster of professional documentaries, novels, comedy shows, and how-to podcasts, all free via iTunes. (If there's audio porn, I've missed it. But even if it exists, as long as it ensures a nation of clean bathrooms, it's for the greater good.)

Life after Nano

The arrival of the new iPod Nano with its massive 8-gig storage (and video capacity) suggests that, as rocker Steve Earle says in his podcast, the revolution starts now. And by that I mean the iPod revolution for grown-ups.

In my life BN (Before Nano), I had to choose between culling the colonies of dust bunnies or catching Richard Dawkins antagonizing religious zealots. Now cleanliness can be next to atheism. With CBC, NPR, Radio Nederlands, and the BBC all podcasting their interviews, I can catch the word of the devil while scrubbing my floors like a nun.

AN, I'm not just a more productive person, I'm a domestic goddess. I cook more, clean more, have orderly closets, and I'm even tackling my filing -- stacks of crap that stand like inukshuks guiding me through my apartment.

My storage locker is in fine shape (and I'm a responsible voter who keeps up with current affairs) thanks to CBC Radio's The Current podcast. Host Anna Maria Tremonti is a reporter's reporter and her skilled interviews aren't to be missed, which explains why I used to skip work to catch the show in its 8:30 to 10 a.m. timeslot. No more. I've even started throwing dinner parties confident that I'll no longer be bored senseless while cooking. And I won't have to resort to small talk involving recipes.

Remember that line about virtue being its own reward? Nah. We all need more incentive to do the things that mothers, bankers, doctors and the rest of world's professional nags say we should.

I take time for breakfast because that's roughly how long it takes for my daily podcast French lesson. My doctor approves of my midday walks, which are possible because I revisit classic novels through Librivox podcasts. The advantages of music with movement are obvious, but I actually look forward to the winter treadmill trot because of National Public Radio's All Songs Considered, which podcasts concerts. When I missed Jenny Lewis in Vancouver I caught the Seattle show -- while doing dull therapeutic exercises for my problematic back.

Nano another word for nirvana?

When it comes to personal grooming, I don't think there's a woman alive who doesn't feel like Sisyphus -- or worse, an inadequate Sisyphus who doesn't have time to push that bloody rock up that mountain again. But manicures, leg waxing and all that other upkeep is much likelier to happen if entertainment comes with. A lot of official TV podcasts are little more than advertising, but Grey's Anatomy has originator Chandra Wilson and actors and producers chatting about the most recent episode the way English lit seminars discuss Gatsby. A scriptwriter pal put me onto this one, saying it's like a grad course in TV writing. As if I needed an excuse to think about something other than a vat of hot wax.

The New Yorker's short story podcasts make me gracious to tardy lunch dates. Toronto Star columnist Linwood Barclay provides three-minute spots on the meaning of life as reflected in things like Lord and Lady Black's $600,000 vacation, which takes some of the string out of grocery lineups. Celeb antics are reviewed by Gossip Girls, a podcast that is the discreet alternative to pawing through People. Then there are the thousands of amateur offerings rotating through iTunes, on everything from knitting to people wailing about their hilariously rotten love lives.

Perhaps the major reason I consider an iPod the Virtue Machine is that it's also the eco-machine -- it helps me endure public transit. I know it's the right thing for urbanites to do, but as Sartre said, hell is other people. And being trapped in a tin can with dozens of socially challenged individuals who insist on conducting loud, inane cell phone conversations, has left me muttering, "You'll have to pry those car keys from my cold, dead hand..."

But insulated in an iPod cocoon, I welcome 30 minutes on the SkyTrain. For a busy misanthrope, Nano is another word for nirvana.

Oddly enough, Apple has ignored the iPod's virtuous nature. It keeps targeting the fun-loving under-30 set with ads featuring silhouetted hipsters gyrating to catchy tunes. While I grant that their ad folk have good taste -- admit it, you're hooked on Feist due to that "1-2-3-4" song in the commercial -- I think they're missing a lucrative market niche. Female, over 30 and over stressed: that's who really needs an iPod.

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