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

Categories: Tech
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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.
 
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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.

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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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Sam Waters
Sam Waters

I think the flip side to this argument is what is gained by the move to digital media.  I'll admit, I have never frequented record stores, even when they were mostly full of records.  The process was overwhelming, and there was rarely a way to find out if what was inside the pretty sleeves was worth spending my money on. 

Nowadays, I have a plethora of music at my fingertips.  I can sample new music whenever I choose.  I can hit YouTube and see a video made by an unsigned band on the other side of the world, discuss that music with other fans, and share that music easily with my friends (well, outside of DRM'd music...but that's another problem). I can sample all that big chart topping music and find out if it's worth the hype before plunking down cash only to discover that there's only one decent song on the entire album, and it certainly wasn't worth $12 by itself.

To be completely honest, I think I enjoy music far more now than I ever did pre-iPod, and I'm certainly spending more on it.

Aha Soft
Aha Soft

Computer will never die, until Windows will absurds. It will continue to transform and evolve, and makes our technology more useful. Steve Job – Iconic Legend of all times. He’s work will iPhone development will still remain.

Keith =)
Keith =)

First let me say that I don't hate digital and I can absolutely see a major benefit of MP3 players and computers and the media avenues they have allowed us.  I was a professionbal musician who made his living doing so for 26 years.  Digital helped and hurt us.  Napster was the main reason for album sales sluffing and yet we also created a new niche getting songs out there immediately without a record company's help. 

Having said that I completely agree with the vinyl assessment as well.  The author is right about coming home and putting that record on.  I remember dloing this with V an Halens first album and playing air guitar all day.  Every song was like turning a new page of an engulfing awesome novel. 

The problem is also the industry of music attempting to overcompensate for losses.  Bands put out subpar material and now people were forced to buy a $12 album in which most of the songs were completely lame.  Even I got sick of that and love what being able to sample music before I buy affords me. 

And although I love the eradication of space problems digital offers me as well.  The author is dead on...when it was good...it was GREAT.  A great album was like music you could physically touch. 

MF
MF

The author has described the process of managing digital music as "joyless" and has attributed a sort of sensuality to the management of music on vinyl.

That's fine, she can feel that way. But it's not universal.

People can come to fetishize their habits. That's normal. Whether it's a book lover who loves the smell of paper and the heft of a book, or a movie patron who likes the flicker of the screen and the smell of popcorn, or an absinthe drinker who takes pleasure in the process of melting sugar over a spoon, humans are creatures of habit and our habits soothe us. The ritual becomes a part of the entire tapestry.

Personally, my experience is the exact opposite of the sentiment that "there is something liberatingly simple and low maintenance about just listening to records." I'm glad I don't have to box up my music every time I move, or have to carry a milk carton in with me when I go to a party. I'm glad I don't have to worry that a single scratch is going to ruin a whole album or that somebody's going to break into my car to steal my CD wallet. As for backing up, I don't find anything onerous about clicking on my "Music" folder and dragging it to a removable disk.

You can keep your vinyl. It's all-digital for me, baby.

Rae Alexandra
Rae Alexandra

Oh god, don't get me started on books as well... :)

(And I totally get you on the boxing-up-music-every-time-you-move front. It's not the most fun I've ever had...)

Conan Neutron
Conan Neutron

Rae: this is an awesome article, thank you for sharing. This is the EXACT reason why my band released our record on preposterous colored 180 Gram vinyl with double gatefold sleeve and 8 page booklet. With cds as a sop to press and radio, which in 2011 still mostly require piece of plastic to be mailed to them. knowing FULL WELL, that most people who hear the music will hear a relatively soulless digital file/stream.

It's infuriating, but I share your frustration, and I think it's reductive to the power of the music itself to have everything be so effortless.

Guest
Guest

For me its the loss of the long-play feature of CD's.  Once upon a time songs came in the larger context of the "album," so you didn't just understand them as individual things, but as part of a whole.  The album set a mood, and, when couple with its cover art; etc., was more than the sum of its song parts.  That's been largely crushed by the iPod and it's song-centric format (not to mention iTunes and the ability to buy each song piecemeal).

Something else is a bummer now:  I forget what music I've purchased.  Back in the day my new album or CD would live near the front of my collection and get lots o' plays--now I'm swimming in a sea of albums and tracks. Sure, I can sort by date added, but then that fucks up the order of tracks on the CD (another thing that's gotten subverted).  Oftentimes I'll buy some shit and forget I even have it until iTunes randomizes that shit weeks later.  Flipping through my music is less doable, it seems like, so yeah--nothing lives at the "font' of my stack.

It seems that when things were on CD (or tape or album), certain CDs would be the "soundtrack" to a period of my life.  But now all the music I own is always at play, so there's nothing that really stands out for a given period, except for maybe playlists I've made.

Sure, it's grampa griping, but it is what it is.

Aha Soft
Aha Soft

Computer will never die, untilWindows will absurds. It will continue to transform and evolve, and makes ourtechnology more useful. Steve Job – Iconic Legend of all times. He’s work williPhone development will still remain.

Afreemansf
Afreemansf

The one thing my ipod has never done is surprise me, its never once turned me on to the next great artist. it is a souless repository for what was, it can never show me what can be.

Stephen Dedalus
Stephen Dedalus

This post is no different from listening to my grandfather complain that, back in his day, movies were a nickel. And that nobody jitterbugs anymore.

Sivart13
Sivart13

This is a very confusing position you hold.

Computers die, sure, but if you've backed up your library in "the cloud" (or just on more than one device) it's more likely to survive than any physical media collection. Computers 'die', but records get cracked, get scratched, get lost, get dirty, get stolen, get carried off by birds, et cetera et cetera.

Have you considered trying to enjoy music for the content of the music rather than the ritual?

Conan Neutron
Conan Neutron

Rock music sounds better on vinyl. It just does. Everything is transitive, but I think way too much emphasis is being put on "the cloud" at this point. Especially since, at some point, even that will be filtered.

Which is both a good and a very, very bad thing. I didn't think her position was confusing at all, I actually agree with most of it.(except for backups, that's a lot easier than people seem to think)

lemmycaution
lemmycaution

It is a pain to back up music, especially if you have a big and growing collection.   That is just a fact. There are no cheap cloud solutions to automatically store a growing 500 GB music collection or whatever. Even updating to an external disk isn't all that easy.  Plus, it isn't like you can't get another copy of most of your music after a hard disk crash.  Music is ephemeral.  Easy to get; easy to lose; easy to replace.

I like things better this way.  It is a lot easier to find new things.  But, it does cause you to interact with music in a different way.  For one thing I am way more impatient when I listen to a new album.  I could see how some people could find this new way to be worse than the old way.

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