I'm chatting with one of the speakers after a conference session when the organizers present her with a present for participating. She squeals with joy as she tears open the wrapping paper.
"What is it?" somebody asks.
"I don't know yet, but I just saw a little "i'," she responds.
It could have been a docking station or a car-stereo adapter, or even a new iPod. The point is that the little "i" has a lot of social currency and signifies much more than the exemplary engineering of an MP3 player.
Prasad Boradkar, an assistant professor of industrial design at Arizona State University, has been analyzing the explosion in the iPod market from an anthropological angle. He reported several years ago that listeners characterized their experiences in curious ways.
"It makes me feel powerful," said one, or "I use it to distort time," said another of her propensity to use it when doing boring things like laundry.
"iPod users bring with them, wherever they go, a portable bubble of private space," says Boradkar "which is a very ethereal experience considering the files themselves don't exist in a traditional physical sense."
He explains that these private bubbles overlap only when listeners share their files. It reminds me of the famed anthropologist Marcel Mauss, who argued that the gift is the essential unit of any functioning society.
We are now seeing the results of the enormous trickle-down effect, economically as well as socially, of the success of the iPod. iPod capabilities have been designed into everything from Nike running shoes to Burton snowboard jackets.
You can go to the iLounge music store for reviews of the new iLuv DVD player or check out the iTrip or iCarPlay transmitters.
In an absurd leap, Camrost-Felcorp has created the iLoft, a condominium in southern Etobicoke where residents can iSleep, iEat and iLive in their iSpaces of between 700 and 1,300 square feet. The condos even have a section of the floor plan devoted to iTech, an acknowledgement that savvy condo buyers see modern technologies as as important as their refrigerators.
The immense variety of products that have co-opted the "i" range from the banality of new condos to the laudable trend of personalized skins for iPods.
Local manufacturers Gelaskins (www.gelaskins.com) make vinyl skins that promote everything from local artists and Hollywood movies to satirical websites like the intelligent-design-mocking Flying Spaghetti Monster (www.venganza.org).
"The cult of the iPod has reached immense proportions," says Brian Dunn of Gelaskins. "Personalizing your Pod is the next big thing, and that really opens things up for companies like ours that are using classic art from the public domain and art from the Internet community."
The Gelaskins designers use the iPod case as a platform for dispensing tidbits of artistic and social currency, much as the interior of the iPod dispenses musical memes, creating celebrities out of obscure artists who might not otherwise squeeze their way into the market.
If you doubt that the market can bear even more iStuff, regard iRepair (www.irepair.ca), a new store on College and the first in Canada devoted entirely to fixing iPods and accessories.
"It took Canada a few years longer to catch on to the iPod trend," says owner Matthew Bremner when I ask about the staying power of the iPod, "so the market will be okay for the next few years.
"So many companies have joined forces with Apple that I can't see it going away any time soon."