In 2011, it’s hard sometimes to remember there was life before Facebook or iPhones. It’s hard to remember that one had to sit down at a computer and log into an email account rather than having the messages delivered to a smartphone in a pocket. It’s hard to remember the once-coveted music compact discs and their portable players, and it’s nearly impossible to remember music was once played by a moving stylus on a plastic disk with grooves. And although new names make headlines every day, a look at the past decade’s nearly frenzied embrace of technology shows the influence, the reach of Steve Jobs.
Although I had used Apples and Macs at school and work for years, Apple gave me my first real taste of truly personal tech in 2001. Shortly after 9/11, the news service where I worked received two supercool-looking gadgets from Apple they wanted us to test drive and write about. It was called an iPod, and its 5GB hard drive held “1,000 songs in your pocket.” (A 1,000 songs?!! Really?!!) I got to take one home and play with it — and I played with it for hours, which turned into days. After my test drive, I was able to pre-order one. I was one of the first people in America to own an iPod. It’s probably my greatest achievement.
When my own iPod arrived, I couldn’t believe the connection I felt with a gadget. It was a toy, for cryin’ out loud! But in a new world that was awash in raw grief and still-trembling fear, the iPod was a welcome distraction. I think maybe — for me, at least — that the iPod symbolized a sort of hope that October. A sign that the trivial could be good again.
Nearly 10 years, two wars, four iPods, and four iPod shuffles later, my pathological need for the iPod hasn’t faded. The iPhone and iPad — both very pretty toys — don’t have quite the same allure. And though I mourn the loss of a genius, I’ll admit that I resented Steve Jobs because my very first iPod didn’t last forever, and neither did the one after that, nor the one after that. When my third iPod died last year, I tried mightily to revive it. I worked on it with a surgeon’s care, replacing the battery and the clickwheel. I’m embarrassed to admit that I treated it as if it were a living thing.
Finally, I bought a new Classic iPod. And like the replacement iPods before it, I didn’t warm up to it right away. It wasn’t the same. It didn’t click like I wanted it to, and it had too many graphics going on. (Give me a black and white screen that shows only my playlists!)
What had I been thinking? Why had I wasted this money?
It was an old rant.
And then I noticed all my playlists were on it — all of them. My 5th gen didn’t have enough room for all of them, so I rotated the playlists. Most of the playlists are by year, serving as my musical histories. What I was into in 2002? Disco, John Mayer (before he became a douche), and Spanish pop. In 2004, No Doubt ruled, and Jim Croce guest starred. Then there’s the inexplicable beginnings of my love affair with hiphop in 2007 (Shock Value!). Most recently, the playlists show that 2009’s Lady Gaga phase that isn’t quite over, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ weeks-old I’m With You is all on the nearly played-to-death “on-the-go list.”
Simply put, my newest iPod holds nearly all my distractions and soundtracks from the past 10 years. It was a personal musical history. Maybe the trivial is finally good again.
It wasn’t until I began searching online for exactly the right case that I knew the new Pod was part of my life. (Don’t scratch the screen!) Like its predecessors, it’s with me most hours of the day, providing a soundtrack for my life. I wonder how I would feel about the iPod if 9/11 hadn’t happened. What if the towers were still standing? Would I have noticed the iPod’s release? Would I have cared? Would I still carry around a Sony Discman? (Eh, that’s doubtful.)
In the dark weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the idea of “1,000 songs in your pocket” was ridiculous, exhilarating and welcome. The iPod was a sign of possibilities — a sign of things to come.
Years later, Jobs would introduce the iPhone, again disrupting an industry. A Razr wasn’t cool anymore. The BlackBerry just wasn’t the same. They didn’t feel alive. You didn’t hold them and see into the future.
We could see the future because Steve Jobs did. And while I can remember a life before iPods and iPhones, I’d rather look ahead, to see what other possibilities personal tech holds. And I wish Steve was here to have his say. Even so, I still have my 1,000 songs in my pocket, proof the trivial could be good again, and I thank Steve Jobs for that.