Monday, January 9, 2012

The miracle of the iPod

I've said this many times before and I still believe it's true: The iPod is the single greatest item that Western Civilization has produced in the last 20 years.

Actually, I should probably use the generic "MP3 player" there, since I think all of these devices are incredible. But like Kleenex and Scotch Tape, the iPod has so dominated the market that its name has come to be used for any related product. So if you own a Zune or a SanDisk or a Sony or whatever, rest assured that you're still part of the club.

We're an iPod family. Everyone but Jack has one, and I don't doubt that he's close to wanting one. The kids have essentially grown up with them, so it's probably difficult for them to imagine NOT having a small, thin, handheld device that holds the equivalent of thousands of 45 RPM records.

That's what I started on: 45 RPM records. When I first got into music round about 1982, you could go to your local record store and sort through racks and racks of vinyl. There were the 33 RPM albums, of course, but I was more interested in individual songs at the time, and those came in the form of 45's. You had to buy the little adapter so that your record player could accommodate the larger 45 RPM record hole, which you did gladly because darn it, how ELSE were you going to hear the latest from Kool and the Gang outside of the radio?

There were also cassettes, of course, and eventually I graduated to those in the mid-80's. With a cassette deck you could make easy copies of other peoples' tapes -- music piracy is no new phenomenon, kids -- AND record songs off the radio. It was perfect! And with the advent of 17-pound boom boxes, it was easy (relatively speaking) to take your music with you wherever you went. At one point I had about 300 cassettes in racks mounted on my bedroom wall.

I received an early version of the Sony Walkman in late 1982 from my brother, who as a member of the U.S. Air Force had been stationed in Korea, where the latest consumer electronics were readily available. The Walkman was cool, and over the next 20 years or so I took a Walkman with me on countless runs and bike rides.

Then came Christmas 1987, when I received my first CD player. The CD wasn't any more portable than the cassette, but the sound! For years we had been listening to dull, muffled recordings, and we didn't even know it. The CD was something.

But like cassettes, you had to keep large supplies of them in your car if you wanted to listen while you drove. Some people had multi-CD changers installed in their trunks. So while we had the sound quality, we still had the hardware problem. This was just something you lived with, and yet it still seemed as if we were living in the best of all possible worlds.

So when Apple introduced the iPod in 2001, it was little short of a miracle. Even the earliest iPod Shuffles could hold hundreds of songs. Hundreds! Without having to trade out CD's or tapes, and without carting endless plastic cases around. And the sound was still great, even with those little white earbuds. Seriously amazing. I didn't get my first iPod until 2005, and it immediately became such an important part of my life that I gave it a name (Bruce. We have a Christmas ornament of an old-model iPod with the name "Bruce" inscribed on it. My current iPod Nano is named Milo. Yes, yes, I know, I'm a freak. Let's just move on.)

My point, I guess, is the same point that countless old men before me have made: You kids don't know how good you have it! You're spoiled, and you're lazy with your digital media players and your iPads and your Chipotle burritos and your zip-up jeans without button flys. When I was a boy, I carted my 36-pound Walkman 8 miles each way to school. And it snowed in September and it was of course uphill both ways and the teachers would hit us upside the head with 2x4's if we so much as looked at them the wrong way. AND WE LIKED IT THAT WAY, DO YOU HEAR ME? WE LIKED IT THAT WAY!

Sorry. My point really is that iPods are awesome. I hope I made that clear.

1 comment:

  1. 2 x 4's! HAHAHAHAHHA! You are so right! Those were the good old days! And if you get hit with one, you got it worse when you got home! I remember my 5th grade teacher used to throw erasers at your head if you weren't paying attention! Forget your homework, in the hall for a swat! And the littler the teacher, the older the teacher, the harder the swat was! They used to hang those paddles proudly in a place of honor in the classroom!