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By Joel Klebanoff

iPod Uncut

When I first heard about it, I thought that a video iPod was one of the sillier ideas ever conceived. If you read my "Hello, Gilligan" tirade about broadcast television coming to cell phones, you know a couple of my reasons: Boorish viewers will make a terrible nuisance of themselves in public places, and kamikaze drivers will decide that watching a video is a perfectly good way to pass the time while battling rush hour traffic. Add to those reasons one point that I forgot to mention in the earlier tirade: The displays on these things are incredibly small. I've never watched anything on one, but I assume that the near-microscopic screen size reduces your viewing pleasure somewhat.

When you get to be my age, when the sands of time sift relentlessly into your eyes, obscuring your vision, you'll find that the expression "go big or go home" is particularly appropriate when talking about anything that you have to view. Of course, the problem with that philosophy is, if the road signs aren't big enough, I won't be able to find my way home.

In the "Hello, Gilligan" tirade, I said that I couldn't figure out which broadcast television programs people found so compelling as to want to watch them on their cell phones. My understanding is that this not an issue with iPods because you download videos to them rather than having to settle for the crap that passes for news and entertainment on regular television. But I still don't get it. Why on earth would you want to go blind trying to discern what's happening on an insect-sized screen just so you can watch a mindless program, a music video, or someone's verbal diarrhea foist upon you in the form of a video podcast?

I don't have any Apple products, but I am, nonetheless, a great fan of the company's innovation and market savvy. Even so, because of what I saw as serious flaws in the video iPod concept, particularly the small screen size, I thought that Apple had finally flipped. Who has so much money that he or she would be willing to waste any of it on nonsense like this? If he gave it any thought, maybe the richest man in America, Bill Gates, would decide that he doesn't have enough better things to do with his money, but do you see him buying a non-Microsoft product? I don't. Besides, he seems to have found some very noble, very much better uses for his excess cash in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I was certain Apple was going to lose big time on this one. I honestly didn't think that the common man or woman would buy into it.

Then I saw the answer—something that hadn't occurred to me but which will probably make this a tremendous success: pornography. According to an article in The Washington Post, there's already porn available for download to iPods (to say nothing of cell phones, digital music players, and portable video game devices). In fact, one Web site offering free videos of naked women delivered one million downloads in about one week; that beats the time that it took Apple to reach the one million download milestone on its non-pornographic online video store by almost two weeks. (I'll leave the definition of pornographic up to you. If you're one of those people who feel that some of today's music videos are pornographic, then you might want to remove the "non-pornographic" label that I applied to Apple's video store.)

If you're thinking that this mini-porn (when I say "mini," I'm referring to the display devices, not anything shown in the videos) is just a tiny niche business (again, "tiny" refers to the business niche, not anything displayed in the porn), think again. An article on the BBC News Web site states that analysts at a media firm, Visiongain, are forecasting that worldwide sales of porn transmitted to just mobile phones will generate revenues of about $4 billion in 2006. True, that's only about 5.7% of a total porn industry that the analysts estimate at $70 billion, but it's still a lot of naughty bits.

Despite where my opening paragraphs in this column might lead you to think I'm going with this, this is not a tirade against porn. I really don't care what happens between consenting adults. Heck, I was once at a stag party where porn videos were shown. (It isn't moral outrage that has restricted me to only one such stag party in my life. I just don't have a lot of friends. If you want to invite me, I'll be there. Just tell me when and where.) I've also surfed to a couple of porn Web sites that offer free previews, but strictly as research for articles such as this, you understand. And I've been to Amsterdam a few times--wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more, say no more, as the Monty Python crew would say.

No, as long as it's consenting adults who are doing the creating and viewing, and they don't foist it on me or anyone else via unavoidable media, that's fine with me. The only thing that bothers me about online and downloadable porn is that unsupervised youngsters may have access to it. Then again, that's only a minor (no pun intended) issue since a lot of these devices have porn filters that you can enable if children are going to be using them. Consequently, there shouldn't be a problem as long as the kids agree to teach their parents how to set up the filters. Children are so much better at this high tech stuff than their elders.

What I don't understand is why anyone would want to watch porn on an iPod, cell phone, or other similarly sized gizmo. I did some research on the Apple Web site. The regular iPod has a 2.5-inch monitor. That's measured diagonally. The width and height of the screen are both less than that. If you want to be really cool and get something that you'll need a magnifying glass to find should you accidentally drop it into your sock drawer, you could get the iPod nano. It has a 1.5 inch (diagonal) screen.

Even the bigger iPod shows only 320 x 240 pixels. If there's any background scenery at all (a bed? a kitchen floor? a contortionist's broom closet?), that will use up a number of those pixels and leave only a few dots to depict the critical body parts in a porn video. I'm sure the previous sentence could lead to at least a thousand hilarious raunchy jokes, but MC Press wouldn't let me publish any of them here, so I won't waste my time thinking of them. No, that's not true. I'll think of them; I can't help myself. I just won't share them with you. Sorry.

I find it difficult to believe that anyone is going to be titillated by porn watched on such a small screen. Can't you just picture it? A bunch of guys get together for a stag party. One of them pulls out a video iPod and starts running the evening's entertainment. "Fred, feast your eyes on this hot stuff! Oh baby, come to poppa! Will you look at that! You can even see… No, never mind, it was a piece of dust." I don't get it. Why don't they just buy a Penthouse magazine and flip through the pages?

It's sad, really. As terribly degrading as porn may be for both the actors and viewers, not to mention how incredibly ludicrous it is to watch porn on a micro-mini-sized screen, I suppose there will always be one or two exceptionally lonely guys, who are far too shy, neurotic, or lacking in self-confidence to have meaningful intimate relations of their own and who will, therefore, rely on something like this to get their jollies. These piteous people have an illness. They need our help, not our condemnation. By the way, does anyone know where I can buy an inexpensive video iPod and some cheap porn to play on it?

This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.

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