My music, my world: using the MP3 player to shape experience in London

Miriam Simun

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Simun, M. (1). My music, my world: using the MP3 player to shape experience in London. New Media & Society, 11(6), 921–941.

City , Commute , Control , MP3 Player , Music , Privatization , Public Space

This article examines the ways in which individuals use MP3 players to shape their experiences of the London commute. To investigate MP3 listening practices, I conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with eight DJs and ‘listeners’ living in London. I argue that MP3 players enable individuals to use music to precisely shape their experiences of space, place, others and themselves while moving through the city. In doing so, individuals experience great control as they transform urban journeys into private and pleasurable spaces. While experienced effects of MP3 player listening were similar among respondents, pre-existing relationships to music appear to relate to motivations for use. This article draws on a variety of social theorists ranging from Simmel and Adorno to Lefebvre to interrogate the experience of control MP3 users describe, and to understand the implications for the autonomy of urban inhabitants.

Main finding
The use of portable music devices with headphones is a relatively recent phenomenon that allows individuals to shape their experiences while moving through urban environments. Interviews reveal that wearing headphones while commuting enables people to experience multiple forms of escape; from (a) time (i.e., time can seem to go faster listening to different songs), (b) place (i.e., users can feel disconnected from the crowded transportation), and (c) others (i.e., they can signal to others their “partial absence” from the public spaces they inhabit (p. 930), which can be considered the erection of auditory boundaries). However, the use of music in this fashion can also be experienced as a compliment to, as opposed to escape from, surroundings. As such, the author argues that listening to music in this format can be interpreted simultaneously as a disengagement from publics and a practice of individual meaning construction of meaning.

Description of method used in the article
Semi-structured interviews (N = 8) with people living in London who use MP3 players on their commute at least five hours per week, on average. Interviewees were either DJs (those who mix music and have played that music in public) or listeners. The goal of the study is not to develop generalizable conclusions about users, but explore the relationship between personal music devices such as MP3 players and experiences in public spaces.

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