Odi et Amo: On the iPod

“….Never change, Never Change, Never change / This is why I fell in love…”
–“I Can Change” LCD Sound System
“Sweetheart, darling, bear in mind all the time
that a constant friend is hard to find
But when you find one that is good and kind
Never you change, never you change”
–“Never You Change” Toots and the Maytals

In an earlier post, I lamented the deleterious effect that the digitalization of music along with technology like the iPod has had on the way we produce, consume and categorize music. Indeed, it is fairly easy to come up with a list of evils perpetuated by the iPod. We listen to (and purchase) individual songs rather than albums; the sonic fidelity (depending on the compression rate) is actually quite poor; the Apple headphones aren’t nearly as high-quality (or durable) as they claim; the ease of carrying around so much music trivializes it even more; and, to join other doomsday criers, the personal music player makes it almost necessary that we will listen to music alone rather than with others.
I Hate My Machine Overlord

Now, there are answers to each of these complaints. The album, for instance, has probably always been an unstable art form; for another, digital recording has long been compressing sound and altering fidelity (but so few people can actually tell the difference that this is negligible). Despite all of these complaints (especially about those damn white shitty headphones) I don’t want to present a jeremiad against the iPod. I’d rather sing its praises.

See, the iPod changed my life. Really.

And here’s where I will come too close to sounding like some a corporate puppet or parrot. Let me, then, first preface my effusive praise with a disclaimer. I really f**king hate Apple as a company. I hate their oh-so-aesthetically pleasing designs. I hate their emphasis on form and function. I really hate the implicit elitism of the cost difference between Macs and PCs and the overt elitism of Apple in the 80’s and 90’s when only certain stores could sell them. (My wife has a Macbook; I burn through a PC laptop every other year. I will not change.)

I also really hate Apple advertising campaigns. When they aren’t winking at you about their own cleverness, they are self-assured and self-righteous to the point of distorting reality. I hate the entire history of iPod commercials for trying so damn hard to look and sound cool. I hate the fact that I find myself liking 99% of the songs they use in these commercials.

I hate the iPad (I have a Kindle). I hate the iPhone (I have an android). I hate Apps for the iPhone. I hate people who have iPhones. I hate people who constantly check iPhones when they are at a restaurant, a movie, a meeting, a class etc. I know that my cell phones (which I change too often due to clumsiness) aren’t as easy to use or as aesthetically pleasing, but I will not change! So much of this is envy, but a good deal is revulsion at having a company try so hard to appeal to me and succeed right up to the point that I can only reject its overtures because I am by nature (and nurture, I suppose) a contrarian.

But remember, this is an encomium and a conversion story. The Younger J and I, equally contrarian and luddite, differ in this one thing: I am an iPod owner (currently I have two; I have owned at least 6) and he is not. Paradoxically, the Younger J is committed to being old school. He collects records (while I remember listening to records when I was young because there was nothing else). He has stacks and stacks of CDs. I have a large hard-drive and a back-up.

When the first iPod came out, it was the province of Mac users primarily. It wasn’t until the second generation (with its beautiful 4 buttons and shiny silver back) that the iPod hit the prime time. Within one year I went from not knowing what an iPod was to seeing the unmistakable tell-tale white headphones everywhere.

My First iPod

At the time, I picked my clothing (coat for the winter, shorts/pants for the summer) based on pocket size so that I could fit a personal CD player and several CDs on my person without having to carry a man-purse. (I did carry a bag most of the time, but it was filled with books). Since I commuted from the suburbs to my school (a ten block walk followed by 45 minutes on the subway and a five block walk), I found music to be essential. The few times I found myself sans musique on the subway, I was apoplectic.

Then, right before the beginning of summer in 2003, my wife (at the time girlfriend) announced to me that she was going abroad for most of the summer, abandoning me to my lonely apartment and the cat. She wasn’t completely heartless in this—as she gave me the news she also gave me a brand new iPod. One of a pair she had financed with Apple (these iPods were over 400 dollars when we were both students).

At first, I balked. Knowing my luddite tendencies, she walked me through the process of uploading CDs to iTunes, entering the song names by hand (we had only dial-up internet access; I know, shocking) and transferring them to the machine itself (which seemed little then, but is ridiculously large compared to today’s models). My summer was suddenly gone. Every night, I went home and uploaded CDs.

Then I met the first crisis. The iPod could not accommodate all of the music in my collection (it was a 20 GB model). I had to decide what to take with me and what to leave. This, of course, forced me to be honest about what I really listened to and what I just wanted people to think I listened to. In a way, without the iPod, this blog may never have existed.

I could wear much lighter clothing. Suddenly, I could run with hundreds of albums at my fingertips. Any moment, almost any song I wanted could be accessed. I could make playlists for different moods, for different days, for different hours of different days. Wherever I was, I had all the music I cared about with me. Airports were no longer enervating. Grocery shopping became a music video. Commuting became dreamy.

Then, after two years of daily iPod use, my iPod was stolen (along with my laptop). All my music was suddenly, irreversibly gone. (Ok, that is a bit histrionic, I had DVD backups of almost everything). I found myself incapable of riding the subway, depressed while walking down the street and adrift in a world of other people’s conversations and traffic sounds.

So, I bought a new iPod. I lost it. My wife bought me another. After two years, it stopped turning on. I bought an iPod shuffle. I lost it. I bought another and the new iPod touch (a gateway drug to the iPhone). My wife has two iPods. In our house, we have half a dozen.
The iPod gave my life a constantly adapting movie soundtrack. It made listening to music easier. It made buying music compulsive. It made having an iPod addictive. Now I subscribe to several podcasts, buy music on a weekly basis and even eagerly seek out the free song coupons they release at Starbucks on Tuesdays.

At the end, I am not sure if this is exactly the best thing that ever happened to me. I never try to engage with people in public—the iPod is like a privacy fence or tinted windows in that it allows us to live a denser public life while still feeling essentially isolated. I love the iPod because it facilitates the fiction that I am isolated and special enough that this catalog of music exists for my ears alone.

I love the iPod like an addict loves his poison. Every two years, I will continue to shell out money to replace my iPod after it reaches its engineered death. (In between, I will borrow my wife’s iPod, again, and again.)  It is my master and I don’t know if I will ever be strong enough to rebel. I will never change. Which, I guess, is probably the least attractive advertising campaign Apple could imagine.

Et vous, mon frère? Have I sufficiently convinced you that you should buy an iPod? Perhaps I will make the decision for you when your next birthday comes around.

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17 comments on “Odi et Amo: On the iPod

  1. professormortis says:

    No joke, I still have my original, 500 odd MB shuffle. The Baroness, meanwhile, has gone through at least 2 Shuffles, and a Mini or Micro or something. In the portable CD player days, I’d break one or lose one at least annually. Meanwhile, as I type, I can’t find my damn wedding band, which I habitually lose around the house. You know me. You know my propensity for losing and breaking stuff…how is it that I still have that Shuffle?

    The Baroness is a committed Apple person, so I am now an Apple person. I don’t have the love/hate thing you do with them, but I will say that I’m too lazy to actually transfer all of my music, so what happened was after an initial burst, I stopped adding music to iTunes, meaning I have CD music and iPhone music. I need to fix that…I suppose if my car ever died and I didn’t have an easily accessible CD player I would finally make the full leap. One thing that I adore about iPods/Phone was the ability to carry around more1930s-1950s radio shows than I could possibly ever listen to…been a great boon for my commutes.

  2. The sister says:

    You should take better care of your iPods, brother. I’ve had the same iPod since 2006!!!! And I don’t think you really hate all people who have iPhones…I have one because my blackberry shit the bed and I got a hell of a deal! The iphone has an ipod in it, and it holds way more music than my 4GB nano….I have played more Mozart for soon to be born baby through the iphone than through any other device. While I do tend to associate most Apple products with the hipster nation, I am happy with the ones i have and use daily. And finally I love this post because of its title…some of the only Latin I actually remember…

    • theelderj says:

      My sister, have you no sense for sarcasm! (Although I do seem to remember someone hating iPhones before she got one).

      As for the Latin, you must remember more than Catullus. But, if you have forgotten Cicero and remember Catullus, I count you richer by subtraction.

      (I do take care of my iPods, care to overuse them apparently)

  3. theelderj says:

    Professor, you are downright right about the portability factor and the access to things we never could have had on CD. With audiobooks and podcasts alone, portable sound has taken a much greater leap than we can really appreciate from the middle of it.

    And, my tone about apple is mainly self-loathing for being sucked into their advertising campaigns. The company’s products are generally better, I just find the company’s pretenses annoying, the blind loyalty of many devotees cliched and boring, and the coded elitism presumptuous. But, largely, I hate myself for loving apple products

    • professormortis says:

      Oh, I’m not a fan of the branding at all. The products, I like, the branding can go fuck itself. I’m with you there.

  4. theyoungerj says:

    I still don’t have an iPod……I wish I did though. I have an fm radio that is kept alive by electrical tape and has bright lime green headphones. However, it is dying for real now and I was looing at iPods today but I don’t think they make a model that can meet the rugged demands I require.

    and digitalized music doesn’t sound as good.

  5. […] have written before about the terrible self-identification that can go into putting songs onto an iPod. When iPods were more limited in capacity (and in […]

  6. […] the first time ever, I now own an iPod. In the wake of last week’s huge show and a general feeling of unease (which must be the […]

  7. […] also got some new speakers for my computer or iPod—when the wife isn’t around and I am in control, I try out new albums or old ones on the kids […]

  8. […] how I heard about the album Beat Surf Fun, but it was a staple in my CD Walkman in the year before I got an iPod. I loved their debut Old Traditions, New Standards (even though I acquired it seven years after its […]

  9. […] was almost dead, so the internet was no longer escapable. This was the last year before I began my iPod addiction but it was the first year that my primary engagement with music came through the computer. Prior to […]

  10. […] about something I have heard and then I just start downloading. It is the internet I blame—before iTunes I used to troll through Amazon buying CDs with the justification that the used ones were cheaper. […]

  11. […] a few months ago I confessed to misplacing my iPod and daring to run in the wee hours with my wife’s iPod instead (something I unfortunately […]

  12. […] been listening to the radio as much lately because I have gone on a typical binge of audiobooks and podcasts. Even when running, I have forsaken some of the usual playlists (and, not because I have been using […]

  13. […] Maroon 5. And this, my friends, was no choice at all. How did I end up in such dire straits? I am a serial iPod killer. My wife’s iPod that I borrowed so many months ago? It plays 5 seconds of a song and then […]

  14. […] in the throes of cyclical change in musical tastes intensified by uncertainty with the rise of the iPod and internet music. The world was still at war with a US presidential election in the works. And I […]

  15. […] don’t have an iPhone and I’m addicted to an iPhone app. I don’t even own an iPod because the one I had cracked and was on it’s last legs […]

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