iPod or No?

Since I started using an iPod Classic a few years ago, music and media have played a different role in my life, and not necessarily an improved one.

But why? iPods are so handy. You can take them anywhere. You can download gobs of stuff on them. They’re easy to use. If I were standed on a desert island, my iPod would—in theory, at least—be on my list of Top 5 things to bring along. (As if people can choose to bring things along when they’re stranded on a desert island. How ludicrous!)

Still, as a Gen Xer, I don’t use my iPod half as much as the younger generation(s), and having an iPod has not improved my life or my experience of media, especially music.

Before iPods, people listed to CDs. Before that, we listened to tapes. Before that, we listened to vinyl. All pre-iPod devices encouraged a listening experience that included learning (or enduring) an entire album. Even if you bought an album or tape or CD only for one song, it took work to repeat that one song, so you generally, sometimes accidentally, got the benefit of listening to the songs before & after The One song, too. Even if you bought an old “45” record or a CD that included just two songs—The Song You Want and another one—you ended up listening to the other song, too, because it seemed to be waiting there for you.

Now that we have iPods, we learn of a song we like and we can pay a buck to download it from iTunes. We don’t need to clog our music collections with anything different, with anything that we’re not positive we’ll enjoy. And this is where today’s iPod users—especially young, hip, impatient, give-me-instant-gratification-and-don’t-make-me-think-about-it music lovers are unfortunate. They don’t seem to listen to anything else but the Big Songs They Want.

And if they do download an entire album, they put The Song They Want in a playlist that they can listen to without bothering to listen to the rest of the album. Either way, they’re missing out on a lot of material, some of it possibly enduring or even life-changing music.

Some of my all-time favorite songs were not Top 20 hits, Top 100 hits, or perhaps ever played on the radio. No music videos were made for these songs. These songs were not plugged on Amazon, iTunes, commercial radio, or wherever else people go to find the music that others are listening to. Yet some of these songs have encouraged me, allowed me to cry, given me illumination and perspective, let me know I’m not alone, and perhaps even saved my life.

Another disadvantage of the iPod is the quality of the sound it provides:

  • The iPod docks that tweens, teens, and young adults can afford are mostly inexpensive pieces of junk. You will never get enormously wonderful, concert-type quality sound from a speaker that is smaller than a cell phone.
  • Listening to great music through a small set of earplugs is fine for the treadmill (or the classroom or the mall or wherever you’re trying to drown out noise), but that’s just it—you’re only drowning out other noise instead of getting a full experience of the music.
  • CDs, tape decks, and record players were all initially built to stay in one place. People would put on a record, then sit down to listen to it. In silence. They actively participated in hearing the music.
  • Music fans used to have large stereo systems with high-quality equipment that filled a room with its depth and breadth of sound. Now, we use our TV systems to listen to music. TV sounds are different from music sounds. Again, not an optimal listening experience.
  • It’s easy to lose an iPod. It’s harder to misplace or forget a good sound system somewhere.
  • iPods break down when they’re used a lot. So does traditional stereo equipment, but iPods are harder to repair, and it’s a lot more expensive to replace an entire iPod than one component of, say, a CD player.

This is not to say that I don’t like my iPod. It comes in handy. I particularly love downloading podcasts that I missed on NPR. My iPod Classic could also fit TV shows and movies, but I can’t imagine anything less tantalizing than watching a great movie or favorite TV show on a screen that is barely, if even, 2 inches by 2 inches.

I guess I’m showing my age when I start “pitying” younger people who are connected and have such a technological advantage in so many areas, compared to what my generation had in the 70s and 80s. But I really do feel sorry for someone who has mostly only experienced music through an iPod. They have the gift of youth—but they’re missing out on other things that only experience and Life can provide.

Apparently there are other people who think like I do. Look at this baby:

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