So here we are.
Of all the things I was grateful did not die last week, it was the iPod Classic. It had been heavily forecasted that it most certainly would not outlive Steve Jobs. Snarky tech bloggers, commenters, and taste-making wanna-bes stared down their noses as they all typed the same sentence:
Who still buys iPod Classics?
Flashback to ten years ago. (Sometimes I marvel at how ten years can simultaneously seem so long ago and just yesterday.) I have never been what one would call an “early adopter,” as much as I would have liked to be. It took taking an emery board to the acid-corroded battery coils of a second-hand Walkman cassette player for the 15 year-old me to finally acquire portable music, at a time when everyone else had already moved on to those new-fangled “compact discs.” I was, in essence, the last person on my block.
This occasionally worked in my favor, especially when it came to toys filled with zeros and ones. I got to giggle safely from the sidelines as I watched well-heeled gullibles fumble with their buggy Newtons and Wizards.
But the first time I saw an iPod in the fall of 2001, I fell in love. Like a G.I. in World War II lusting after a pinup girl, the photo in that magazine ad enchanted and enthralled me. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Impressive specs aside - 1,000 songs in your pocket! That’s almost 100 CDs! - it was small and gleaming and gorgeous. I didn’t just want one. I coveted one. I craved one.
But I was held back, this time not by financial issues but by Bill Gates. At the time, I was living smack in the middle of a Windows household, and the first iPod was Mac-only. Still, I dreamed as I walked the streets of New York City, carefully so as not to make the Discman in my tote bag skip.
In the first year of the iPod’s release, I encountered only two people who owned one. In both cases, I could only stare and let out a hushed “wow.” I knew better than to ask these owners if they loved their iPods, because I knew the answer was “duh.”
It’s ironic that there’s been so many tumultuous dealings between Apple and the Beatles (between the logo design lawsuits and the endless pursuit of their music catalog), because the iPod was, to a post-September 11th America, what the Beatles were to a post-Kennedy assassination America. It was a little white box of magic and hope that you didn’t realize would change everything.
I know this all may sound like hyperbole, but take your nose out of your touchscreen for two seconds and look back at that design. It truly was a revolution, and it is still beautiful.
In December 2002, when the second-generation iPods welcomed PC owners to the party, I finally got one. It was stunning to hold. 20 gigs of beauty. Five buttons and a wheel, all stylishly integrated into a single control panel. I just kept staring at it. Even though we hadn’t gotten the moving sidewalks and the jet packs, the 21st century was starting to live up to its promises.
I took my iPod everywhere. After years of fumbling with cassettes and CD wallets and AA batteries, I had the dream of tomorrow in my pocket. Well, actually, buried in my purse... subway theft was on the rise, after all.
And for once, I wasn’t the last one on my block. And sure, with each new model - what? it’s thinner now? it displays photos now? aw, man! - I felt a little pang of regret for not waiting for the The Latest Newness... but it did not diminish my love for my iPod.
When it died, three years later, I put it in our display case alongside our other cultural artifacts and treasures. (If it’s good enough for the Museum of Modern Art, then it’s good enough to go next to James Cagney’s hat and a gold-plated Slinky.) And then I got the shiny new 60 gig video iPod, in black (black!). It became my new love.
I still have it. It’ll turn six this December. And when it dies, it will go in the display case and I will replace it with one of the Classics, which thankfully are still alive. And why shouldn’t they be? They’re only ten years old. That’s too young for anyone or anything to be put out to pasture. The Little Rascals worked until they were at least twelve. And they didn’t kick out any members of Menudo until they were sixteen.
Go on. Call me an oldster. But I’ve burned through my iPhone battery too early in the day too many times. I will buy a Classic because it is still a gorgeous machine, built like a tank, with a battery life that is unmatched by any other model. It does not require 3G or WiFi or rely on the cloud. It holds more music than some computers do. It does one thing, and it does it very, very well. But more important, unlike iPhones and iPod Touches and iPads, no one wants to steal it.
There’s something to be said for being beautiful and undesirable all at once. There’s also something to be said for a machine that is blissfully free of Angry Birds.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.