The Little Man Who Secretly Lives in Your iPod

For years, my Lovely Spouse and I have had a running joke about the Little Man inside the iPod. When we’re having a meal together at home or just hanging out on the sofa, we like to play music in the background. I’ve spent an inordinate and obsessive amount of time assembling and tweaking the dinner playlist. I’m constantly adding and removing songs because one of us has gotten bored or annoyed with a song, artist, or type of music or because one of us has gotten some new music which must be added or we’ve remembered a band or album that we love but which isn’t currently part of the playlist.

I don’t remember which of us first thought of the Little Man inside the iPod, but we both go on about it now. The thing is, I know for sure, very confident, cross my heart and hope to die, that shuffle play on the iPod, and by extension any digital device capable of playing music, is controlled by algorithms that select the order in which songs shall be played. There isn’t a sentient being picking our music in an order designed to confound or amuse us, all the while observing our reactions. However, because we humans are not good at dealing with randomness, we invent and imagine patterns where there really are none. We’re like Skinner’s superstitious pigeons, in a way. When the iPod at home plays two songs in a row by Paul Simon or Kula Shaker, it’s human nature to notice that and to decide that the order of songs must not be truly random.

Enter Little Man.

There is some controversy in our house over whether or not there is just one Little Man who controls shuffle play in all MP3 and CD players, or whether each device has its own dedicated Little Man. If there are in fact multiple Little Men, they must have some way to communicate betwixt each other, so that when I leave the Little Man in my car and transition to listening to the Little Man at home, the one at home knows I’ve heard three Silversun Pickups songs on my drive home and can then continue with a couple more songs by them just to mess with me.

I recently discovered that there’s actual precedence for Little Man. When Apple was designing the original Macintosh computer, Steve Jobs was keen to make a character called Mr. Macintosh a key part of the operating system. Mr. Macintosh was to have been a little man that would pop up at odd, unexpected times to tweak the user’s sensibilities. He would be, essentially, a little man who lived inside every Mac.

Maybe when he got canceled from the Macintosh project, he moved on, invading iPods and shuffle-playing music devices of all kinds, like some SCP-series technological entity.

Maybe I’m creeping myself out, now…

Do you have any technologically-related pseudo-kinda-sorta superstitions?

7 thoughts on “The Little Man Who Secretly Lives in Your iPod

  1. Well, there’s the woman who gives us directions via the GPS unit. I’m sure that it’s a real person because I can hear the annoyance in her voice when I take a wrong turn.

    “Tsk. Recalculating route. Again.”

    I wonder if these tiny people are the digital age children of, say, the little man who turns the light on and off when you open or close the refrigerator door?

  2. Technically, the shuffle isn’t really random. It’s an algorithm pretending to be random. Occasionally, a device will generate the same sequence whenever it is turned on. It’s a Hobson’s Choice: You can have any random sequence you want as long as it’s that one.

    The little men in my music devices work a little differently from yours. They specialize in playing everything except the songs I actually want to hear. I figure each device has its own little man, but they are all part of a hive-mind super organism.

    There’s a little man in my TV, too. If I see two episodes of a show I do not normally watch, it’s always the same two episodes. This happens even when they are years apart.

    • Randomness is an interesting thing. I remember a story I read years ago where aliens attempted to contact humans but were disappointed when their perfectly random radio signal was not recognized as an anomaly.

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