On Thursday, Apple killed off the iPod Shuffle and Nano, the last of its MP3 players without apps or a WiFi connection. This is a goddamn shame, and reminds of when I said goodbye to the last "dumb" music device I ever owned, and probably ever will.
It was an 160GB iPod Classic that let me carry my entire music collection around with me, providing a selection of songs for every possible mood. It was built like a tank and didn't have apps or WiFi capability. I could listen to an entire album without even the possibility of being interrupted by a Twitter DM. It was pure bliss. And one summer afternoon perhaps five or six years ago I absentmindedly left it on a park bench while on break from a soul-crushing job that had me looking at spreadsheets for eight hours a day. It was promptly stolen.
I was devastated, because at the time the writing was on the wall for Apple's iconic line of MP3 players. I knew that my next music device would be a friggin' phone. One with a fraction of my iPod's storage, no doubt. That would mean constantly taking the time to cycle new music onto the device before I left the house, adding a new and sometimes time-consuming annoyance to my day. I didn't have a clue then that social media would end up taking up so much screentime.
I've gotten used to all of this by now—I own an iPhone—but there's no doubt I'm listening to less music than ever. What used to feel like a moveable feast of sonic delights now seems like the trickle of water in a hamster's cage. I listen to music when I see it posted on Twitter. I listen to music when I remember to update my library. Often, I just stare at social media and don't listen to anything. Sometimes, though, I still listen to music on my phone just because I want to feel a particular way. It's special and oddly private.
This feeling's been lost with "smart" devices for music, most of which are phones. A lack of on-device storage space, plus internet connectivity, equals a reliance on streaming, which is embedded in a money-making web of likes, follows, comments, hype, curation algorithms, and social sharing. The ecosystem prioritizes the new and hot, like in the case of SoundCloud, or the library is determined by what's economical to pay for the rights to, in the case of Spotify. It turns me off.
Of course, the iPod Shuffle and Nano didn't have the storage space of the older, clunkier iPods, and the iPod Touch (which is still available) has almost as much storage space as the iPod Classic did. But the Shuffle and Nano had something that the Touch doesn't: They left you the fuck alone. It's this "just music, just for you" approach that I miss.
I'm definitely in "old man yells at cloud" territory here, so I should mention again that I do own a newer iPhone and for the most part it's completely fine. I've adapted to the new world. But there'll always be a part of me that misses the "dumb" devices of old.
At least there's always the Zune.
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