“….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.
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.
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.