iPod, therefore, I am

My ear buds were dying.

I was midway through my morning commute when the left speaker cut out. I jiggled the wire and it came back for a few minutes, but by the time I got to work I was down to one channel again. I’d have to pick up a new pair on my lunch break. Going without my iPod for the commute home was not an option.

Safe inside her sound bubble.

I’m a Johnny Come Really Lately when it comes to digital music. I didn’t own an iPod until last year, but now that I have one I’m addicted to it. In fact, I’d say my iPod has not only reawakened my musical spirit, it has quietly changed my life in some rather profound ways.

The Tune-less Years

I’ve always been a music lover (as well as a knock-around musician) but somewhere around the turn of the millennium the music all but stopped for me. My band had dissolved, and life tossed other priorities my way—a home renovation, a marriage, and then kids. Once kids were on the scene, my main source of musical entertainment was Baby Einstein and Sesame Street. If we wanted to rock hard we’d put on The Wiggles live album or Wake Up Jeff.

Yeah, I had a cabinet filled with hundreds of CDs but when was I going to listen to them? In the middle of night when the kids were asleep? During the ten-minute ride from my house to the bus stop?

I resisted the iPod craze for a long time. I’d never been a “Walkman guy,” either the cassette tape or CD versions, and the whole iPod/MP3 player thing just seemed like an extension of that. Lack of space finally nudged me into the digital age; I needed to clear out my CD cabinet to make room for computer equipment. So I started the long process of importing my CD collection into iTunes and I picked up a used iPod shuffle on eBay.

Love at First Listen

I was immediately hooked. For starters I could load 17 hours of music onto a device the size of a matchbook. And the sound was awesome. Nothing beats listening to music on headphones, which block out all ambient sound and allow you to hear every nuance of the music. I’m sure music purists will disagree, but a good pair of “ear buds” put music inside your head in a way that standard headphones never can (especially not those cheesy, foam-eared, Walkman-style headphones.) When was the last time I listened to music on headphones? In college? High school?

I didn’t realize how much I missed listening to music – not watching music videos, but listening to music— until I got an iPod. It was like a cool drink on a hot summer day. It was more than merely refreshing. It was like getting something back that was crucial to my well being, like a vitamin that had been missing from my diet.

My iPod quickly transformed my dreary New York City commute into an almost enjoyable experience. If it’s a rainy day and the subway platforms are dank and crowded you’re going to need some Metallica or Tool to make it through. Nothing beats checking out the celestial paintings on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal while listening to Radiohead. The other day James Taylor accompanied me on my morning bus ride. Hey, it’s good to know that I’ve got a friend.

made for ipod
I was made for iPoding you, baby. You were made for iPoding me.

I’ve upgraded to a bigger iPod and now I’ve got my entire music collection on there. Rock, jazz, classical – there’s something for any mood. And that’s the beauty of the iPod – it allows you to select a soundtrack for the movie that’s your life. It used to stress me out moving with a herd through buses and subways and crowded city streets. But it’s kind of fun now that I’m in my own private “sound bubble.” Music has a way of transporting you to different times and places and my iPod allows me to be in Times Square, present day, and Europe ’72 with the Grateful Dead simultaneously. Groovy, man.

Healing Harmonies

I find myself walking more since I got my iPod, and in the last six months I’ve dropped 30 pounds and saved a couple of bucks on subway fare. And I’ve started writing and recording music again for the first time in years. It’s like a reawakening of my music appreciation has stirred my creative juices as well.  Thanks, iPod!

Of course, the isolating effect of the iPod is also its greatest drawback. People already have a hard enough time connecting with one another in modern society; we don’t need another gadget that further detaches us. And, yes, you shouldn’t wear one while driving, or in class, and you shouldn’t play it too loud, blah, blah, blah. Anything can be abused. But if you’ve ever sat next to a crying baby at an airport or next to a loud-mouthed cell phone user on a bus, then you already know that a digital music player can transform an otherwise unpleasant or mundane experience into something quite magical.


reprinted from WAYNE Today, September 2008

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