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An iPod Sheep Fights Back


I've had just about enough of being called a sheep for having an iPod. Of being told that I'm a mindless slave to fashion or worse -- slick marketing hype.

It's not actually the raw accusation I mind... after all I do have a somewhat unnatural devotion to my iPod (but this isn't an intimate blog, so I'll just keep the details as my little secret). No, what I object to is the hypocrisy of my accusers.

They smugly sit in judgement of my inferiority... of my purely irrational purchasing decisions. My spending money unnecessarily when perfectly valid alternatives exist with more features at a lower cost. Just so I can look cool.

But check out their closet / garage / house / pocket and what do you find? A $6500 big screen TV. A Really Cool Car. The good toys.

And this makes no sense. After all, nobody needs to watch television. And the cheapest car on the market will still get you from point A to B, and that's what you're paying for, right? For that matter, if you live in a city with decent public transporation, who needs a car at all? Seems kind of lame to have a car just because everybody else has one.

Now that I think about it, nobody needs to listen to music, and certainly not on a portable player. so why have ANY mp3 player at all? Why is the sheep/smartGuy line drawn between the iPod vs. some other mp3 player rather than between having an mp3 player and NOT having one at all? It's an arbitrary line!

Or rather, it's a personal line. Someone decides that simply because they don't see the value (and they have the technical specs to prove it!), that value must not exist.

iPod sheep like myself can flood you with reasons:

"It's the end-to-end experience."

"Attractive products really do work better."

... and I swear there was one more, but it's not coming to me just now...

But none of that matters. What matters is that we wanted it, and we don't have to justify it to you anymore than we expect you to justify YOUR choice of Calvin Klein underwear even though--let's be honest--it's not really working for you.

There is no Sheep's Law that says the actual value of a product is somehow inversely proportional to the number of people who bought it, or the slickness of the marketing. It is possible that we all bought it because... because... because we know something you don't. Yeah, that's it. We're part of a world that, frankly, you just don't have the ability to perceive. It's not we -- the faithful flock -- who are blind--it's you.

Same goes for my iMac G5. And my obscenely expensive bubble bath. And my fine french lingerie when an old t-shirt would do just fine.

And speaking of t-shirts, I'm deeply troubled that even my beloved Hugh McLeod is hurling these accusations -- only he calls it the ignorance premium. He claims we're paying extra because we just don't know any better. In other words, we're ignorant of the cheaper alternatives that offer the same -- or more-- features.

But the adorable Hugh should not be biting the sheep hooves that feed him. In addition to owning an iPod, I am also the owner of a certified limited edition Gaping Void t-shirt. This one (#57 out of 200) is mine all mine, and when the 200 are gone, that's it.

And here's my suitable-for-framing certificate that came with it:


That makes me a certifiable Hugh/Gaping Void sheep. And proud of it. But this apparently doesn't violate Hugh's "ignorance premium" thing because, you know, the shirt is worth it. And that's my point. Hugh decided the shirt's worth it, but the iPod's not. And that's just not his call. It's mine.

I decided that even though I can buy a perfectly good t-shirt for a fraction of the cost of my certified limited edition (did I mention that I have #57) Gaping Void shirt, there was some special magic in having one of Hugh's shirts with one of my favorite hugh-toons, made sweeter by the certainty that out of the only 200 that will ever be made, the chances of my wearing the same shirt to some Blogger Party or Geek Dinner as some other hot blogging babe is outrageously slim.

And I decided that paying extra for my iPod is worth it (but it's not really extra; these folks just don't understand how the whole iPod ecosystem works and it's much too complicated for me to explain here). Unfortunately Hugh (and the eight remaining people in the world who've so far resisted the koolaid) just doesn't get it. His loss.

And to those of you who claim I bought an iPod to look cool, newflash: any idiot who spends that much on an mp3 player and then takes it out in public without covering it up in a military-grade ruggedized kevlar case doesn't deserve to own one.

And one more thing--stop abusing the word "sheep". Sheep are much smarter than you think.

That's one of my sheep (an ex-sheep, now), from a picture I took in 1998, in a little ranch I lived on in Thousand Oaks California. Notice that he's reading Bruce Eckel's "Thinking in Java" book. That sheep has forgotten more about software design than half the guys who call us sheep will ever know.

So all this time you thought calling us "sheep" was an insult... (idiots).

Sheep rule.

Posted by Kathy on August 14, 2005 | Permalink


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» Sheep or In The Know? from GBGames' Blog
An iPod Sheep Fights Back at Creating Passionate Users made me laugh. It was funny to me because it was a shrill defense against the accusation that only sheep would pay so much more money for an iPod (or Mac hardware in general) just to look cool. T... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 15, 2005 10:49:55 AM

» iGnorance is bliss! from "Hello_World"
Hugh: Know diddly-squat about tech? Then you're more likely to go with the $400 iPod, less likely to go with the $250 Microsoft-powered alternative. Kathy: And I decided that paying extra for my iPod is worth it (but it's [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 15, 2005 3:46:39 PM

» The Flock from Thoughts from an Empty Head
I am the tech geek of the family. It’s an appellation that I am proud of, having served as the trusted source of all things tech in my family (being the only person in my family who actually cares to know how to program a VCR) all of my life. I... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 16, 2005 10:39:02 AM

» Emotion and design from Bruno Unna
Kathy Sierra pointed me out, through her web log, to an article about the supposed fact that attractive things work better. The article begins with a dissertation about a collection of three teapots. Extremely interesting, since it illustrates the v... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 16, 2005 3:51:29 PM


Granted, Hugh can be cynical - for good reason too, he did work in advertising :P - but I think his idea of the ignorance premium is more than just insulting the sheep. More like, championing the idea of making informed decisions.

Granted, those informed decisions can still be still be partially irrational. Like using little facts as rationalizations for your irrational decision. Like when I said, "I'll be able to get more work done after I buy this powerbook."

Posted by: Jack | Aug 15, 2005 12:46:42 AM

I had a sheep moment yesterday, talking with a guy in the US who was wondering about buying a motorcycle. He asked me if there were any good reasons not to buy a Harley, since pretty much everyone has them that's into bikes in the US. Personally I've never been into Harleys, so, having listed the reasons why I personally wouldn't want one (too big, unmanoeverable, thirsty, and not the most reliable), I thought I'd better go check out the latest models just to be absolutely sure. I looked for one that I genuinely wouldn't mind riding, and sure enough, there is one - the VRSCD Night Rod, which has its footgear situated where they ought to be to get the best balance of comfort and manoeverability. It's just under 1200cc, reasonably powerful and torquey, and jet black, and utterly beautiful. Comfortable for rider & pillion, basically a hell of a good bike. It's just been released this year, so I can be forgiven for slagging off Harleys before - they just had never produced a bike that interested me before. So, I trotted along to my local dealer's website, and got the finance quote. It costs £20,000 on the road! The monthly payments would equal my mortgage! I could get a minivan cheaper then that & have enough change to buy another used bike. Its nearest equivalent is a BMW R1200GS, which is just under 1200cc, just as comfy & powerful, has an engine that has been maturing since the 1930s when Hitler's army used it to thunder across Europe and Russia, is supremely reliable and its older brother the R1150GS Adventure has just been all the way round the road, through Russia and Mongolia, Siberia, and Alaska, across to NYC. That bike is £8715.00 otr.

No contest. Much as I like the look of the Harley, the BMW wins hands down.

Posted by: Matt Moran | Aug 15, 2005 2:54:55 AM

"Ignorance Premium"...hmph. Anyone who doesn't know about the alternatives obviously hasn't done any research and therefore clearly doesn't _want_ to know. I can't believe there are people living in the developed world who don't know how to shop around. Any marketing executive who can engage your desire to buy to such an extent that it overrides that deserves his paycheck.

Posted by: MattF | Aug 15, 2005 3:28:15 AM

There's a particularly virulent form of cognitive dissonance, which seems to disproportionately afflict those who purchase apple gadgets (and Volvo automobiles, but that's another story).

The new owner feels that the item should possess some value beyond mere utility. Of course it doesn't, it's just another mass produced gadget. However, the owner feels cheated and cannot accept this and begins to invest the gadget with the "missing" qualities.

When the owner's associates refuse to go along with this, episodic paranoia is a common reaction, as the owner struggles to maintain the talismanic worldview.

This frequently manifests itself as rambling monologues in which the afflicted attempts to justify the reification with tautological arguments, referring to other possessions which have been similarly imbued.

Attempts to reason with the afflicted will usually be rejected, often quite bitterly and with with accusations of persecution.

Posted by: Bill | Aug 15, 2005 5:37:15 AM

This seems like a defensive rant that did nothing to address the actual criticisms. You introduced the straw-man of utilitarianism. You claimed innocence by association because you bought a shirt. You suggested that no person has any right to question another's purchases. These all seem like ridiculous assertions, but more so, completely irrelevant. You neither explained that you're not a "sheep," nor explained why it's good to be a "sheep."

Posted by: Scott Reynen | Aug 15, 2005 5:52:39 AM

Woohoo! Hear, hear!

Whenever people throw around that stupid accusation, all I can think of is my favorite H.G. Wells quote... "Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo." Can't say anybody's wearing a halo in this case, but it does make you wonder why they're so into what you have apparently done wrong. Smells like jealousy...!

Posted by: Amber | Aug 15, 2005 6:21:14 AM

Anyway I can get a larger picture of the sheep with the Java book? I need a new wallpaper on my work machine...

Posted by: Richard Cook | Aug 15, 2005 7:48:52 AM

I went through 3 different mp3 players before I finally drank the koolaid. By the time I was done making stupid buying decisions, I had burned through almost $1000.

First mp3 player was a tiny rebranded flash player that was clearly designed to be as inexpensive as possible. Which it was. Result: terrible interface and lousy software. Only worked with Windows. Sold it to a friend for $50. He bought a new mp3 player to replace that one about 2 months ago.

The second mp3 player was a Muvo. It worked well, but I have something like 3000 songs on my harddrive. I spend I-don't-know-how-much on music all the time. It didn't take long before I outgrew the whole 256mb capacity thing. Though otherwise it wasn't really a bad player.

So this time I decided I was going to get something that perfectly matched my supposed needs. By which I mean, I wanted to have every feature imaginable, and at least 15GB of space. And in Cory-Doctorow-esque fashion, it had to eschew DRM and support open formats like Ogg (I don't have a single song encoded with Ogg). I came up with the Neuros. It looked decent in the pictures, ThinkGeek carried it (so it had to be good, right?), and it was cheap. I picked up the 20GB model, which was the same price as a 15GB iPod at the time. It was huge, clunky, heavy, and chock full of interesting features. The build quality left a bit to be desired though, and the software was uninspiring. But hey, it was open source, so I could fix it if I needed to! Oh, and neat, it used C#, which at the time was my language of choice. (I've since seen the light and moved over to Ruby. Yay.) Two weeks later, the harddrive died. Called up tech support. "Oh, yeah, it does that some times. Turn the player on its side and hit the upper left corner against something hard. That should unstick the drive's read-heads. If that doesn't work, send it in and we'll replace it." It didn't work. I didn't bother sending it in, because that'd just mean I'd get another piece of junk. I just gave in and bought an iPod instead, and I've been happy ever since.

The simple answer is, you have to try it yourself first. The thing is as popular as it is because its well-made, durable (easily scratchable backside, notwithstanding), sexy-as-heck, and it does exactly what it's supposed to. I ended up being one of those "halo-effect" people too. Went out and bought a 12" PowerBook soon after. Again, haven't regretted it for even a second (though much of that lack of regret is due to the excellent TextMate editor -- mmmmmmm).

I love Hugh's commentary for the most part, but I really do have to agree with you on this one. I'd be curious if he'd still be saying the same thing if someone gave him an iPod to play with.

Posted by: Bob Aman | Aug 15, 2005 9:14:41 AM

I'll tell you what makes Apple's products more worthwhile than others - customer service. I've just been in the Apple Store in Birmingham, UK, where I almost bought a USB Bluetooth dongle for my Mac Mini. I also asked about upgrading the Mini to have an Airport card of some sort, and I was told basically if I was going to do that, not to get the Bluetooth dongle, because the Airport card actually includes bluetooth anyway. Their stores rock - they'll do the work for me while I wait. None of this sending it by courier, getting it back broken etc.

Oh, that and the fact that they just seem to work so much more intuitively and with less problems than other competitors' gear.

Posted by: Matt Moran | Aug 15, 2005 9:30:09 AM

yes, you are a sheep.

You, and all those that behave like you do.

Comparing the ipod with a car is really a "sheep example" too.

Ok, but that's fine, if you pay to look cool, that is your business. You worry more about more materialistic and image issues, than some other people do. That's all.

Some others don't care about looking, cool, are more practical than you are. And will save up some money to enjoy an ice cream while listening to the mp3 player.

Meanwhile, you now go and enjoy your beautiful ipod. And do enjoy it all the time you can, next year it will be out of fashion and you will realize how stupid was to spend that money.

Or you may continue being a sheep and working for THEM... (or for us).

We, human, need sheeps to eat them.

Thanky you for being a sheep.

Posted by: luis | Aug 15, 2005 9:41:53 AM

What does it mean if I have an iPod (5GB baby, I started this trend) but I refuse to use the white earbuds because I think they look STUPID?

Am I still a sheep?

(Note: Fresh clean white sneakers look stupid too, so keep those ridiculous shoes in your house until they're nice and worn in.)

(Note2: And don't even get me started on white socks. If you own even one pair your opinion doesn't count.)

Posted by: Chris | Aug 15, 2005 9:43:31 AM

"(Note2: And don't even get me started on white socks. If you own even one pair your opinion doesn't count.)"

Aw, and I was going to post something, too. Oh, well.

Posted by: GBGames | Aug 15, 2005 10:14:25 AM

Everything in this post was completely ridiculous (Scott, thanks for pointing out the obvious ; )

It's ridiculous to try to justify your passions (or even just slightly irrational/emotional purchases) to those who don't share them. It's just (if not more) ridiculous to mock the irrational passion of others while failing to see our own. But the most ridiculous thing of all is to take this post too seriously. ; )

After someone linked my previous koolaid post to suicide bombings, I felt I needed to lighten things up. You know, as opposed to my typically somber, heavy entries. (And I was looking to show off my new certified limited edition Gaping Void t-shirt)

But the part about my sheep learning Java... *that* was true.

FYI: my iPod does TOO have talismanic qualities. I think maybe it's like voo-doo... doesn't work unless you believe.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Aug 15, 2005 12:46:14 PM


"Innocence by association?" I think you missed the point where the author notes the irony of the claim that an iPod is a frivolously expensive and foolish purchase when coming from someone who is hocking limited-edition t-shirts.

This whole conversation reminds me of something I saw on MeFi recently. It was maybe the fortieth argument/thread I'd seen betwee people who love using Moleskine notebooks, and people who call them... well, sheep, mostly. The relevant part: a guy asked if the Moleskine users would be willing to use a notebook of exactly the same quality, but that cost less, if it said "Cheap Moleskine Knockoff" on the front in big letters. The general consensus was yes - if I'd had a MeFi account, I would have responded that I would have paid extra (as much as?) for the wording.

Anyhoo: were there an mp3 player that could store 40 gigs of music, sync with my laptop, store arbitrary files, and have about the same form-factor and convenience of operation as my iPod - but come a couple hundred dollars cheaper with the phrase "iPod Wannabee" in big letters on the front - I'd pony up. Hell, you probably wouldn't be able to see my iPod anyway, since it's usually in my pocket, and I don't use those white earbuds (Christ, they're uncomfortable!). I'm not proud. I just like it when things work well. End of story.

Posted by: Sammy | Aug 15, 2005 12:47:45 PM

Some people take themselves wayyyy too seriously.

I wanna be reincarnated as Kathy's iPod.

... that or her fine French lingerie ...

Does that make me a sheep?

Should I start "Baa-ah"ing now?

Posted by: Shaded | Aug 15, 2005 1:33:39 PM

Can I still use my iPod Shuffle after Labor Day?

Posted by: Bill Mietelski | Aug 15, 2005 1:35:05 PM

Hmmmm, here's how I see it:

It's not just about the ipod, it's about the ipod lifestyle:


Your getting a shitload more than a $400 mp3 player.

Youre getting options...!

Posted by: Rich...! | Aug 15, 2005 1:59:15 PM

People who choose to mock others aren't busy enough.

Posted by: Peter Cooper | Aug 15, 2005 2:34:42 PM

Did most people just skip right over the "Attractive products work better" thing? None of this talk about sheep really matters in the face of scientific evidence. Speaking of which, we are now a four, yes four, iPod family (there's only two people). Two original 5GB iPods, a Shuffle, and my oh-so-lovely-smooth-and-beautiful-and-functional 20GB iPod Photo, that also (quite handily) lets me download photos when my measley 128MB card fills up and I don't have my iBook or Powerbook or iMac with me. Thank you Apple :-) Baaaaaah.

Posted by: Beth Freeman | Aug 15, 2005 4:31:28 PM

Me thinks Kathy is actually a wolf in sheeps clothing.


Posted by: Matt Galloway | Aug 16, 2005 12:47:22 AM

This seems to apply to sooo many things:
(From the end of Matrix Revolutions, not a spoiler):

Agent Smith:
Why Mr. Anderson, why?
Why do you do it?
Why? Why get up?
Why keep fighting?
You believe your fighting for something?
For more than your survival?
Can you tell me what it is?
Do you even know?
Is it freedom, or truth, perhaps peace... could it be for Love?
Illusions Mr. Anderson.
Vagaries of perception.
Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose.
And all of them as artificial as The Matrix itself.
Although... only a human mind could invent something as insipid as Love.
You must be able to be able to see it, Mr. Anderson, you must know it by now. You can't win, it's pointless to keep fighting.

Why, Mr. Anderson, Why? Why do you persist?

Because I choose to.

Posted by: Doug | Aug 16, 2005 5:14:28 AM

The kool-aid is not the iPod. The kool-aid moment is when you decide that your life requires a set of ear buds piping sound into your head at all times. The iPod is just the pitcher for the kool-aid.

Posted by: Dale Austin | Aug 16, 2005 8:18:33 AM

I realize this discussion is not about mp3 players per se, but I've been happy with my iriver h340. Postrel notwithstanding, sometimes power users just want something with bare functionality and lots of it.

In the geek world it is common for people to be stingy about certain technologies and extravagant about others. I wouldn't call it hypocrisy.

Capitalism is about convincing consumers to buy more than they need. The secret to winning as a consumer is having a realistic sense of what your material needs really are and resisting social pressures to overspend.

Posted by: Robert Nagle | Aug 16, 2005 12:00:47 PM

The guy accusing iPod owners of being sheep was ridiculous. Though not because of that accusation alone.

I wanted an iPod before such a thing even existed (spending equally ridiculous amounts of money on Minidisc and cassette tape Walkmen), and still think they are head and shoulders above the competition in terms of value for money and several other measures. However, it's clear that a hype wave that started because of the products clear superiority has become partly self-sustaining. Many newcomers are probably swept along with the hype i.e. sheep.

But, who does Hugh think is going to save us sheep from our ignorance of digital audio player technology? Robert Scoble!

Robert. Scoble.
Yes, THAT Robert Scoble.
The one that is a paid shill for Microsoft.
Yes, THAT Microsoft.
The one who's dreams of a media monopoly via WMA is being primarily scuppered by the unexpected success of the iPod.

The Scobelizer!
The guy who puts a saccharine sweet gloss on everything produced by Microsoft and can put a positive MSFT spin on anything (even having to reboot your tablet every day).

But wait, that's not all. He's also:
The same guy that wrote a public letter last year to Bill Gates, and accused his MSFT co-workers of being incompetent and suggested they be fired because they couldn't produce anything that could rival the iPod. Money quote: "Even I want an iPod."
The one who, in the blog link Hugh provides, said in Feb that he would be the first to tell you when something came along that had a better 'end-to-end experience' than the iPod.
The guy who paid the "ignorance tax" on the iPod he bought for his son earlier this month.

I'm sorry perhaps the many layers of irony are confusing me, but who's being 'ignorant' here?

Also, both the iPod mini and shuffle were cheaper than the similarly specced alternatives when introduced. Is that an 'ignorance rebate' or what?

Posted by: dave | Aug 17, 2005 11:38:42 AM

There's more to the ignorance premium than just the idea that iPod owners are ignorant. Of course they're not (no more than anyone else, at least).

I'm too busy and too non-geeky to spend hours researching possible better alternatives for MY OWN INDIVIDUAL NEEDS AND BUDGET than the iPod, so if I get around to buying a digital player, it'll probably be an iPod or one of the more better known competitors.

Unless someone like Phil Torrone comes along and offers me advice that seriously devalues the iPod's ignorance premium.

Yes, we have plenty of choices. But making a choice is also a function of time.

Posted by: hugh macleod | Aug 18, 2005 5:18:09 AM

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