Last week was the 10th anniversary of the debut of the iPhone, a device which, according to tech articles of the time, was either going to be the novelty flop that destroyed a company, or was going to forever change how we related to technology. As I’m sure you all have noticed any time you’re in a waiting room, in line at the movies, or even during a commercial break of a football game you’ve invited people to, everyone’s staring at their smartphones tapping away. So yeah, consider this a world changed.
I grew up wishing our civilization would eventually become more like Star Trek, where we leave behind material concerns to explore the galaxy and further ourselves as people. And going by our tech, we’re getting there. After all, they carried rectangular “Tri-corders” which, as I’m sure Star Trek fans can remember, were devices that could be used to do anything and everything depending on the moment and circumstances of the plot. Difference was they whipped out those things when they actually had a task to accomplish, like say, Spock trying to determine if “The Horta” was actually a life form and not just a big pile of gross shag carpeting and latex foam from the prop department crawling around on the floor.
But this is not a column about smartphones. So this week I bring to you, from the March 8, 2007, JG-TC, a relic of an anniversary that does mean something to me: former staff writer Kate Henderson’s story about those crazy kids at Lake Land and EIU walking around campus with their new-fangled iPods, one of the earliest few mentions in our paper of any such thing. The first instance of the term “iPod” appearing in the Journal was actually, believe it or not, in a rundown of that week’s storyline for “All My Children.”
I don’t know what the age demographics are for those who read this column. It’s my guess that for about a little over half of you, an mp3 player isn’t even a thing. I’m guessing that for you, your “sound system” era peaked with a component system you used to have in the living room with turntable, cassette decks, an 8-track, and maybe even an amp with those little needles that would move back and forth. And if so, I tip my hat to you. That was living. Meanwhile I’m still living just as much in the past. I still buy my music on compact disc, a task which is both easier and more difficult than you’d expect, as my six-month quest to finally acquire hard copies of Lou Reed’s back catalog on CD has proven. Seriously, 25 dollars for an import of 1980s “Growing up in Public”…an album all of six people probably bought when it came out?
Time makes old fogies of us all. I voiced my resistance to the concept of digital music to all my friends back in the early 2000s. I grew up believing, and still believe, that Album Is Art Form, and that to just be able to split up a record into little bits you can buy separately while discarding the rest destroys the intent of the artist. I mean, what fun is music if it’s all just reduced to context-free little bips and bops you can get piecemeal at the click of a button. And what about album art? How many of you folks from the ‘70s remember those days of black lights and classic album covers like Yes’s “Fragile” or well, anything by The Moody Blues? And don’t get me started on the pure thrill of devouring the album credits in those little books. I’m telling you…the liner notes for Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” are practically the Moby Dick of obsessively credited liner notes.
And then I got my first iPod for Christmas about 10 years ago and instantly started singing a different tune. “Wow,” I thought. “At long last I can finally carry around a condensed version of the very best from my CD collection in a tiny little metal box!” Which makes me the one doofus in the world who uses his iPod to primarily to hold songs from his own CD collection.
Henderson’s article theorizes that you can tell a lot about a person from the first three songs that their iPod plays when you put it on shuffle. There’s some telling bands happening here; not to blow up former EIU student Kevin Fitzgerald's spot, wherever he is today, but there’s no bigger “my older brother listed to this” band 10 years ago than “At the Drive in.” Well, I’ve got my iPod right here in front of me now as I type this, so let’s try it…ahem…”All the Best” by R.E.M. from their final album Collapse into Now; “Who You Are” by Pearl Jam from 1996’s perpetually pawn-shop-available album No Code; and “Depression” by Black Flag from their 1981 classic Damaged, three tracks which make me sound like that hipster doofus just starting to get a little salt and pepper in the right front quadrant of their facial hair, or who uses the adjective “classic” when talking about records. Sheesh, one click later it played “Riki Don’t Lose that Number” by Steely Dan. That helps, right?
We still listen to plenty of music digitally, although we’ve moved from downloading to streaming services, a trend which seem a little odd to me. Having a device that can play any song at any time on command is kind of Star Trek, but why should I keep paying for music each month I’m not listening to? Meanwhile, the idea of a dedicated stand-alone music player you have to keep plugging to your bulky laptop has fallen out of favor which means suddenly my once state-of-the- art iPod now feels as antiquated as my old Sony Walkman. Good thing I’ve still got three of them in a shoebox, right? Walkmen, not iPods. Meanwhile, someone somewhere is looking at his new Apple Watch and thinking, “This is still cool, isn’t it?” At least for a little while maybe.