Eighteen years ago, in a daze, I rode the bus into the Liffey Valley deep in Dublin’s nowhere hinterland and paid £400 for a second-generation iPod.
I had just quit my job and was overcome with an intoxicating freedom even though I knew difficult times were ahead. After lingering at the edge of the cliff for months, I had finally taken the plunge. And now, in a final gesture of defiance to the universe, I blew what little money I had on one of Steve Jobs’ magical listening devices.
I couldn’t afford it and yet as I entered the store I felt fate calling.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the iPod has changed my life in small but meaningful ways. I’ve always been obsessed with music – and now I might be obsessed on the hoof.
Although this original device has long since stopped working – I tried to recharge it recently only to find the brick dead – I still felt a pang when it was confirmed that Apple had discontinued the iPod some two decades after its introduction .
The logic behind this decision is simple. Streaming is the future – and the present – of music. And so, lugging around a glorified hard drive crammed full of digital music files no longer fits Apple’s idea of itself as constantly ahead of its competitors on the technological timeline. The dustbin of history has swallowed the iPod whole.
What made the iPod so iconic? When Jobs presented his new device in autumn 2001, digital music players had long been established.
As early as the 1990s, Sony’s MiniDisc, for example, made it possible to listen to music for hours on the go. And yet I can’t remember buying my first MiniDisc. Why is the day I spent all my life savings on that iPod burned into my brain cells?
The iPod’s success can be explained by a number of factors. Despite its weight, it was instantly iconic – its less-is-more contours were inspired by the 1958 Braun T3 transistor radio, designed by famous German designer Dieter Rams. White and minimalist, it came with a click wheel that made it look like something star trek.
Also, iPod was a catchy name (it comes from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and asking the computer nut, Hal, to “open the pod bay doors”). And that name lives on in the brave new world of podcasting coming from the iPod.
Then there was the marketing: “1,000 songs in your pocket”. Who doesn’t want to have 1,000 songs in their pocket? That sounds blasé today when each of us carries all of human knowledge in our devices.
But twenty years ago, music was still considered finite. There were records you just never got to experience because you couldn’t afford them – my curiosity about the Cocteau Twins, for example, was smothered by the fact that their late 1990s albums cost over £25 a piece. They were ethereal and unrecognizable – and too rich for me.
The iPod also contained the origins of playlist culture. In the 1990s, we’d been content with mixtapes that had a DIY appeal yet were tedious to put together. Playlists could be assembled with just a few clicks – and changed the way people consumed music on an almost molecular level.
That has continued to this day, where many of us aren’t invested in any particular band or even musical milieu – but in our favorite playlists.
This has the advantage of opening people up to new genres. There was a time when an indie rock fan refused to listen to pop; where a heavy metal devotee would shun hip hop.
Playlists have broken down those barriers and you can hear that new egalitarianism today in artists like Billie Eilish, equally influenced by Justin Bieber and Nine Inch Nails, and Harry Styles, whose entire repertoire sounds like a 1970s nightly playlist with a splash of 1990s boy bands and a touch of vaporwave.
The iPod also paved the way for the smartphone. When I brought my iPod home and unpacked it—it came in a huge box that reminded me of the packaging for a fancy Easter egg—I remember initially being nervous about leaving the house with the device. It was so expensive. What if someone stole it (which didn’t happen). What if I drop it? (which happened often).
Fast forward half a generation and nobody frets about going out in public with a nearly €1,000 phone sticking out of their back pocket (we’re all obviously afraid of smashing our screens). The iPod was key to this transition: it normalized the concept of technology as something to be experienced on the go rather than at your desk.
Sentimentality is a fatal weakness for a tech company, and Apple obviously didn’t hesitate to kill the iPod after it survived its life cycle. And yet it took a moment to appreciate that it was a world-changing technology.
Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said that the “spirit of the iPod lives on,” adding, “Music has always been part of our core at Apple and that’s how it brought it to hundreds of millions of users The iPod hasn’t just impacted the music industry — it’s also redefined how music is discovered, heard and shared.”
He’s right. Two decades later, music fans still live in a reality created by the iPod. It’s a world of playlists, endless choices, or blurred genre boundaries. In a way, we’re worse off – remember when we used to have attention spans? And yet music today is so much more exciting, fluid and faster. None of this would have happened without the iPod.
https://www.independent.ie/life/farewell-to-the-ipod-that-magical-device-that-changed-my-life-and-altered-the-course-of-musical-history-41639341.html Farewell to the iPod, that magical device that changed my life – and changed the course of music history