Panic shopping in the aisles at Currys; people hastily thumbing through the catalogue pages in Argos. That’s the image I had in my head a couple of weeks ago, when it was announced that Apple’s iPod Classic was going to be discontinued. I’d lived without one for two years, ever since my old faithful broke and became permanently jammed on ‘It’s My Life’ by Talk Talk. You’d think the fact I’d gone without having 160GB of my own music wherever I went would mean I didn’t need to desperately hanker after one. But I did. As soon as I found out I it was to be retired, I spent frenzied days weighing up the fiscal pros and cons, and then just did it regardless.
I’m glad I did, too, even if it did mean a short period of time spent like a madman from Threads, obsessed with hording water before the apocalypse comes. And it seems to me that we’re not just losing the iPod Classic, but a whole way of relating and consuming music, too. Streaming is the future, what with the unlimited libraries to browse and cherrypick songs from – and yet there’s something about that endless choice that feels, to me at least, somehow emptier.
As vinyl enthusiasts will tell you, there’s something special about the concept of ownership in music; the idea that, among the huge back catalogues available to stream for free online, there’s a thrill in choosing to buy and cherish albums by bands you love; documents of music and memory that you’ll keep forever and belong to you, rather than in an ether of other files. And just as vinyl has its own perks that digital music can’t compete with – the feel, the weight, the aesthetic – I feel the same about that original iPod, too. The laborious time spent burning your CDs to iTunes; the internal monologues about whether you really need to carry that collection of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds B-Sides with you at all times; the majesty of the click wheel, scrolling through all your much-loved artists (admittedly, that’s one thing that takes some time to get used too, in the face of touch-screen ubiquity. On at least three occasions I’ve jabbed Morrissey in the face with my finger by accident, forgetting I need to scroll rather than just swipe a screen). The iPod’s a relatively new invention, really, but there’s still something nostalgic about these things: it reminds me of being 17 or 18, agog that I could retire my MiniDisc player and carry all my music with me instead.
Sane people, of course, will point out that streaming services have so much more choice than your own digital collection ever could. That it’s easier, and more convenient, and more user-friendly. But then, that’s the point: we’re not sane, you and I, the people who obsess over music and feel some giddy thrill in owning our own copy of something, even if it’s available for free elsewhere. And there’s other perks, too. While the revenues from streaming remain a point of debate, I feel more comfortable knowing that I can buy an album – whether it’s a physical copy I’ll later upload to my iPod or just a digital download – and know some of that cash will go back to the artist, so they can carry on creating. There’s 160GB of storage available, and even a tech dunce such as I knows that’s loads, and so plenty of room for all the obscure records you own that might not make the cut on a 32GB model (and, it’s worth noting, might not be available to stream, either). And there’s something reassuringly simple about having an MP3 player that’s, you know, just designed for playing music, rather than a whizz-banger device lifted out of Star Trek with apps and cameras and games and all the rest of it.
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There’s an argument, no doubt, to suggest that we consume so much music, and so mindlessly, that it loses its meaning; that to have 160GBs-worth of songs with you at all times means you’re more likely to dip in here and there, rather than listen to something on repeat. I don’t think that’s true. And it seems to me that, unlike culling tracks from Spotify, having that many songs which you’ve handpicked as being special to you – and you’ve taken the time to download, upload, sync to your iPod etc – means you’re far likelier to head down new cul-de-sacs of obsessive listening habits. For at least a week, after getting my new iPod, I spent a week listening to nothing but PJ Harvey: from ‘Dry’ to ‘Rid Of Me’ to ‘To Bring You My Love’ to ‘Stories From The City…’ to ‘White Chalk’ to ‘Let England Shake’. Sure, a 32GB iPod would be enough to store all those LPs, if you wanted a specific Polly-binge; but what if next week I want to listen to the Bad Seeds? Or Suede? Or Kate Bush? Or La Roux? I want my favourite songs with me at all times; it’s like carrying around my own comfort blanket, and by God, I’m not letting go of it after remembering how bloody good it feels.
Tony Fadell, one of the team behind the original iPod, says we needn’t be glum. “It was inevitable something would take its place,” he told Fast Company, in an interview about the changes at Apple. “You know, in 2003 or 2004, we started asking ourselves what would kill the iPod. And even back then, at Apple, we knew it was streaming. We called it the ‘celestial jukebox in the sky.’ And we have that now: music in the cloud.” It sounds like a fine notion, but answer me this, Tony: does the cloud have a click wheel? If it doesn’t, I’m out – and I’ll stick to my hastily-bought, soon-to-be-obsolete option instead.