During the keynote address of the company's annual MacWorld Conference, Apple computers announced the release of the iPod Shuffle, the latest addition to their endlessly successful iPod family. Capitalizing on one of the iPod's most popular features, Apple's new product plans to stretch the MP3 player market farther than ever before, suggesting something called the "Random Revolution."

While the hype machine around all of this might seem as life altering to you as the Segway®, it's enough to get all kinds of fanatical music "purists" blogging circles around themselves. We are, as you well know by now, facing a pretty undeniable changing of the guard when it comes to the future of format--a change that will invariably affect the way that music is both heard and created.

I'm not about to exhume the analog vs. digital debate from the tomb where it rightfully lies--firstly, because by now it should be obvious which is superior; and second, because the zealots already have another funeral to attend: one that mourns the death of the album.

Of all of the endlessly debatable facets of digital media's contemporary effects on the music industry, it seems the current most controversial argument revolves around a simple mechanism that has been in place since the dawn of the digital age--the dark, looming shadow of something called a "shuffle" button. Once limited to shifts between five or so discs, in the wake of the MP3's omnipresence, a person can shuffle between an entire music collection--arguably destroying the visionary cohesion intended in an artist's album-length statement. And with the introduction of the iPod Shuffle, the argument is only picking up steam.

The way Apple sells it, you'd think that was precisely the idea: with language like "New Order" and "Random Revolution," the company is obviously pushing a lifestyle with its product--one with little time for conventions like "artist statements" and "visionary cohesion." But then again, neither does the music industry as a whole: it's been a long time since the majors have been at all interested creating album-oriented stars--instead using the format to essentially bloat the price of singles to $18.99 a pop--while indie stalwarts continue to maintain projected standards of "integrity."

The irony of all this, of course, is that pop music was essentially founded on a singles market--and while I would certainly consider myself a major proponent of the album, there are just as many examples of transcendent brilliance tied to the single format. Which is to say, a return to the single could more or less be considered a return to historical tradition.

But never you fear, AOR traditionalists: the Random Revolution promises to be something of a bloodless coup. And as long as there are crazy zealots out there flying the last scraps of the album rock flag, someone is going be recording a four-track concept record about the mating cycles of turtles. Never you worry.