It was almost exactly a decade before the death of Steve Jobs that I realised he was about to fundamentally change my life.
On a plane to LA, stacking the twenty CDs I might want to listen to on the journey onto my tiny, bent and broken fold-down table, balancing a decrepit Walkman on the top like the van at the end of The Italian Job and wondering how the hell I was going to fit twelve airline bottles of wine and a shit meal on there as well, I turned to a feature in NME in which Steve Sutherland laid out the future of music.
Within a few years, he claimed – like a bald rock Isaac Asimov – we would be able to carry our entire record collection around on a small box in our pocket. It’d undoubtedly kill the music industry by making music an easily transferable, non-physical, seemingly valueless commodity, I read, but with cheap Merlot spilling all over my chunky copy of ’69 Love Songs’ and a lukewarm chicken korma in my lap, that seemed a small price to pay.
Say what you like about Apple’s practices over the decade when they’ve come to epitomise futuristic consumer chic – the annual fleecing of devotees with barely-improved ‘new’ models, the hugely ramped up design surcharge, the ruthless exploitation of their ‘must have’ aesthetic, the facilitation of download culture, the use of child labour, suicides and chemical poisoning in their Chinese factories – but for envisioning the iPod, Jobs will undoubtedly go down as a pioneer in music to rival Les Paul and, um, whoever invented the CD.
To say it revolutionised the way we listen to music is a vast understatement – it altered culture itself. Suddenly house parties stopped being twelve people sat in a room getting miserable to ‘OK Computer’ and became musical symposiums full of people freely sharing tastes, genres and ideas at the spin of a click-wheel.
Endless reams of songs and artists could suddenly be shared everywhere; the breadth of musical scope of an entire generation broadened, even if this MP3 deluge devalued music to the point they stopped thinking they should be paying for it. By reducing music, the iPod made it so much bigger.
Sure, there were drawbacks. As a DJ you could no longer use the excuse that you’d left your copy of ‘Bandages’ at home, and as a rutting indie student you could no longer lure girls back to your place with the promise of seeing your comprehensive collection of The Wedding Present’s 1992 Hit Parade singles in their original sleeves WITH THE BOX AND EVERYTHING (surely, just one of you…)
But these were hugely outweighed by the pros – having your entire musical world at your fingertips, the ability to shave the filler off your favourite records, the way the playlist revived the dead art of the romantic/lovelorn mix-tape.
And that rutting student no longer has to make the mistake of sleeping with anyone who’s entire record collection can fit on an iPod Shuffle and consists solely of The Lighthouse Family.
So for the iPod, Steve Jobs, we salute you. I suspect you might be the only thing Apple can’t produce a mildly improved version of next year.