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Friday, October 7, 2011

How the iPod Sucked All the Joy Out of Listening to Music for Me

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2011 at 8:38 AM


In case you missed it, Bjork just became the first artist ever to release an album as a series of apps. Depending on your perspective, you're either breathless with the futuristic, multi-media innovation of it all, or -- if you're like me -- it kind of makes you want to stick your head in a bucket of cold water and never listen to music ever again. Bjork is, and always has been, an innovator. It's the reason she sounds like no one else, and it's the reason she's had such a long career. And while I respect her fearless commitment to stretching boundaries, I'd like to acknowledge that not everyone on earth is thrilled about music moving in ever-more digital directions.

For some of us, the act of going to the record store, rummaging through bins for hours and hours and excitedly carrying our purchases home is an integral part of our enjoyment of music. For some of us, nothing -- not even navigating through a three-dimensional galaxy on an iPad -- will ever beat the joy of unwrapping a record for the first time, popping it onto a turntable and carefully placing the needle on it, before poring over cover art, lyric sheets and thank you lists. For some of us, that's the greatest interactive experience one could possibly have with music in our own homes.

For the record (pun intended), I wasn't always a vinyl purist. I owned an iPod in 2005. It was very expensive and lasted just over one year, imploding around one week after the warranty had expired (I remain suspicious about the timing). I had approached the iPod enthusiastically at first. It all seemed so compact and convenient. So sleek and pretty. The reality, however, was that this device took almost all of the joy out of listening to music for me. Not only have I never replaced it (or even been tempted to), it sent me screaming, back into the arms of vinyl and back to a time where listening to music wasn't so... distant.


The iPod felt soulless to me. Empty. Cold. Purchasing downloads was not a joyful experience -- it was a boring one. As was loading CD after CD onto my computer. Using iTunes (which seemed to need upgrading approximately every three minutes) was never fun for me -- it was something to be mastered and then sadly tolerated. Aside from anything else, it seems to me that listening to music via a computer is the absolute best way to make songs sound as terrible as possible. The whole thing felt like an awful lot of hassle for a lot less fun. Removing computers from my musical experience seemed like the easiest solution to bringing the pleasure back into listening to music.

There is something terribly temporary to me about relying on technology for storing and listening to music. Computers die, iPhones and iPods get lost and malfunction. There is something very disposable about it all. My entire iTunes library was lost after my last laptop expired (yes, I should've backed it up -- but that would've just been one more joyless chore in the list of all the other joyless chores associated with this technology), and once I got beyond the initial frustration of the loss, I merely felt free. Free to go back to listening to music the way that makes most sense to me. There is something liberatingly simple and low maintenance about just listening to records.

I feel genuine sadness when I think of the generation after mine living in a world where they have no need to go to a record store. I feel depressed knowing they'll never know the joy of receiving (or making) a mixtape (even though cassettes were very disposable and frequently sounded awful, nothing showed love like a carefully constructed mixtape). In addition, I feel disappointment that so many people choose to purchase songs one at a time now, rather than allowing themselves to become utterly immersed in an entire album, artwork and all.


I am acutely aware that everything I have just said is horrifying and aggravating to a great many people. We now live in a world where if you don't own an iPod or an iPhone, you are deemed backwards in some way. And perhaps I am -- I don't care in the least. The sad, premature passing of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and the outpouring of moving tributes from both the media and the public that followed confirmed to me this week that I am very much in the minority when it comes to my distaste for i-technology. But I refuse to believe I am alone in this. Digital music may be the way of the future, but there's something to be said for respecting and cherishing the past too.


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