Order In the Plex Now

Honey, I Shuffled the Book

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

The Perfect Thing is now hitting the bookstores, and it’s time to discuss why this book is different than, well, just about any other book you’ll be reading this year. It’s shuffled.

Let me explain. Early in the process of determining how I’d write a book about the iPod it was clear to me that this would not be a single linear narrative like my previous works. I’d tell the history of the iPod, of cousre, but it was also important to look into a lot of areas where the iPod has made a difference. The book, I decided, would be organized around aspects of the iPod. (Alternative title: Nine Ways of Looking at an iPod.) Each chapter would be a self-contained essay looking into subjects like the “cooless” of the iPod (this included its design), or the nature of personal audio (going back to the Walkmand and its predecessors, and how they changed the way we listened to music).

Then I thought of my favorite feature of the iPod: shuffle. I adore the way that shuffling reorders my music collection, making a personal radio station of my music collection. What’s more, when you think about it, the iPod’s shuffling ability symbolizes the way that digital technology in general allows us to remix the way we entertain ourselves and even do our purchasing, researching, and socializing. Somewhere in this thought process I got the idea of shuffling my book. Just like the songs in an iPod shuffle, I could reorder the chapters–and different readers would discover them in a different order.

Why do this? I felt that it would help the book hue closely to the spirit of its subject. And it would also underline the symbolic impact of the iPod in helping us switch to a world where media isn’t programmed by gatekeepers, but shuffled and remixed by the people. Finally, it seemed like fun. Fun seems appropriate in a book about the iPod.

Would this work? I vowed to try writing the book with that idea in mind and then determine if it made sense. I felt it did. Except for a very few redendant identifiers (when someone mentioned in a different chapter needs a couple of words to explain who he or she is), the chapters can pretty much go anywhere. (I”ll explain the exceptions in a minute). To my delight, my publisher went along. As a result the order of the chapters you read in The Perfect Thing may well be different than someone else’s.

I did go out of my way to make sure that no readers would be harmed by this. The first chapter is always the first chapter. And there’s a coda that is the last thing in every version of the book.

In the next post I’ll get into exactly how we did the shuffle.