iPods creep me out. There, I said it.
It took several months for me to be guilted into learning how to use the iPod on my smart phone. Am I the only one pissed off about the requirement that I must master a new mode of technology every time I just want to have a few jollies?
I violently hate the remote for our satellite TV. I gave up trying to figure out how to switch everything over so I can watch a DVD. I stalked around my classroom this fall like Dr. Frankenstein after I couldn’t figure out how to access a drop-down menu in the “new and improved” 2010 Word.
So, until recently, the little orange iPod icon languished unused on my phone. I forgot it was even there. Then one of my communications students heard me make a crack about how I hadn’t learned how to use the iPod part of my phone. “You spend FIFTEEN HOURS in your car every week and you haven’t figured out the iPod yet? Aren’t you a communications professor?”
Nothing like a little embarrassment to get a person off their ass (or, in this case, onto their ass). I know the iPod user interface is supposed to be elegant. But when I grew up, the “user interface” was turning the radio on. Even the sainted Steve Jobs didn’t manage to improve on that.
So I sat and learned how to rip a few of my old CDs (after I installed, updated, and massaged iTunes). I figured out how to sync the stupid phone (after humiliating myself by asking one of my teenaged sons for help). About two hours later, I was ready for Personal Entertainment Fun in the car.
And lo, let the list of resentments begin. Every time I look down at the phone screen to start up the iPod, I have to take my sunglasses off—naturally the easily-accessed buttons on my dash radio can’t be used to control anything. I resent the fact that the only thing visible on the digital readout on my car radio is the idiotic-sounding AUX.
I resent how using the iPod makes answering the phone impossible, since its umbilici inevitably twist around the emergency brake. If I try putting the little fetus on my thigh to keep it handy, the gyroscope inside the phone decides I want to look at stuff sideways (which results in me driving with my knees while shaking my phone like a rat terrier).
And then, boys and girls, something even more sinister started to happen. I started skipping to my favorite songs. It turns out I’m listening to about ten songs over and over again out of the several hours of music that I begrudgingly uploaded.
I know that many people who love music will obsessively listen to an artist whenever they get a new album (and I happen to be one of those people). But I’ve started getting the willies every time I find myself mainlining favorites…because now, I do this all the time. Not just some of the time.
And sometimes I (gasp) don’t even listen to the whole song.
When I was growing up, there was no way to replay your favorite songs, unless you were sitting right in front of a record player or were willing to break your cassette tape with excessive rewinds.
If you heard one song by an artist that you absolutely loved, you had to be willing to gamble and buy the whole album. I still remember my excitement when I found a Donny Iris tape in the bargain bin at a record store. But I hated the rest of the album (what could possibly match up to the great “Ah Leah!” anyway?). I remember glumly thinking that I should’ve known better.
“Favorite songs” back when I grew up were accidents, unless you could afford to buy an album every time you heard a song you liked. We stumbled on our favorites like lost twenty-dollar bills in the gutter. When a good song came on the radio, you sat in your driveway until the song was over, or drove around the block a couple more times. You turned the radio or boom box up so loud your parents hollered.
You savored those songs, in other words.
Now, digital music allows everyone to high-grade favorite songs as easily as picking a favorite candybar out of the trick-or-treat bowl. You cull the best and leave the rest, and sit immersed in your absolute Grade AA No. 1 favorites for hours. You don’t have to invest in an artist, or get to know their other work. There isn’t any gambling, and there isn’t any of that let-those-other-songs-on-the-CD-you-don’t-like-so-much-grow-on-you thing.
The last time I was in the car with my 17-year-old twin sons, one of them started shuffling through songs on his phone about every five seconds. “Can you NOT JUST PLAY ONE WHOLE SONG?” I finally shrieked.
“I knew you wouldn’t like our music,” he smirked, and his brother snorted in agreement.
“I love the Gorillaz. Just play one whole song!”
“Sweet Jesus. YOU know who the Gorillaz are?”
The thing is that exactly the same thing is happening to me. I’ve started just taking bites out of my favorite songs and leaving the rest, like some poor half-eaten sandwich on the counter.
So why, after all this work ripping CDs and figuring out how to use the damn thing, should it bother me so much to have such instant access and control over my favorite songs? I’ve earned the right after going through all this hassle, haven’t I?
But the iPod’s leaching the magic out of music for me. I’m losing my musical perspective. I never have to sit through a song I don’t like. I don’t even have to sit through parts of songs I don’t like. I’m getting harder to please, and I feel like I’m turning into a musical snob.
My favorite songs will still be my favorite songs, but I will never relish them quite as much. They will no longer be happy surprises, shanghaiing me from out of nowhere to instantly change my mood. They will no longer indelibly remind me of a certain place or time, because I will have listened to them in many different places and all the time.
Now that these songs are all lined up under my thumb, I don’t have to be grateful for them. They’re at my service. I’m in complete charge of them, and somehow that makes them not mean as much.
Maybe I can go back. Maybe I grit my teeth and ignore the commercials and lame playlists and start listening to the radio again. But I suspect the iPod is like musical crack—once you’re hooked, you have two choices: either keep using, or sadly trudge through life while doing your best to ignore the fact that there is a hard, clean hit out there with your name on it.
(Just in case you’re wondering what the top ten are: Elton John’s “Ballad of a Well-Known Gun,” “Fresh Blood” by the Eels, “Red-Eye” by The Album Leaf, “Brick House” by the Commodores, “Trilogy 7” by Abfahrt Hinwil, “Squares” by the Beta Band, “Music for Chameleons” by Gary Numan, “Zebra” by the John Butler Trio, “Mr. McGee” by Zero 7, and “Bones” by Little Big Town.)