Saturday, September 20, 2014

Actual Outrage: The Termination of the iPod Classic

As I advance in years and I subdivide my decreasing energies across an ever greater range of concerns, personal and political, I find that I have to be principled and selective in drawing on the reserves I set aside for outrage.  Thus and so, while I can understand the "hand off my megabytes" attitude the Twittersphere has adopted re Apple's U2 push promotion, I can't get too worked up about it.  After all, whatever U2 and Apple may have inflicted on my hard drive (I say "may have" because I haven't even gone to check), I have over the years dropped full price on other, surely more grievous offenses to my iTunes Library.

— I'm looking at you, Black Keys

That said, I figured I'd throw some thoughts together about what, among the many events of September 9, DID outrage me.

I entered my music-buying years just as cassette tapes were giving way to CD, and I harbored exactly zero sentimentality about transitioning between these media.  The benefits of CDs were NUTS.  You could jump track to track, there was no rewinding required, and you didn't have to live in fear that your favorite LP would spill its guts out in the player, and you'd have to spend hours untwisting and respooling it.  Plus the CDs came out in long boxes you could cut up and tack on your bedroom wall. What could matter more to a 14-year-old boy?

I can't speak to vinyl v. CD, as vinyl went out of play for me years earlier.  My fave records were the soundtrack to Disney's Robin Hood ("Oo-De-Lally") and Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual ("She Bop").  Sound quality and fidelity weren't priorities for me back in those halcyon pre-adolescent days, and in truth, they still aren't.  My first real interest in music came at around age eleven, when I got my first Walkman: "Wait, so I can have absolute sovereign control over what I hear?  And I can completely tune out everything and everybody around me?  SOLD."

So from the moment of the Big Bang (for me), portability was first priority (for me).  Walkman to Discman introduced manipulability and ease of use as values equal to — and now compatible with — portability.  Discman to Nomad, Nomad to iPod brought mass storage, skip-free listening, and battery life.  And done: we had climbed the mountain.  I am holding in my hand right now a 160 GB iPod Classic that holds the entirety of my music collection.  I can take it anywhere, queue up whatever I want to hear at a moment's notice, and the battery runs for days.  All the boxes were checked.  I only bought The White Album once — on CD.  I've skated for years on that single-medium purchase; there needn't be a Tenth Revolution.

So now, umpteen paragraphs into this, I get to a real cause of outrage, one on which as it happens I am expending A LOT of time and energy, including today:

On September 9, while Tim Cook and U2 were loving it up on stage, Apple quietly, stealthily, sleazily discontinued sales of the iPod Classic.  

The Classic I have is I-dunno-how-many years old.  Two years ago I had to replace the headphone jack: I took it into the Back Bay, and they gave it back to me with the seams busted open — "Used to be you could snap these open," the repair specialist told me, "but Apple fuses them together now, and you have to brutalize the device to get it apart.  We clamped it shut as best we could."  My iPod looks like there's music physically bursting out of it.  It's dinged up, the screen scratched all to hell.  It looks just like something I might have carried in my pocket everywhere I've gone for years — with my keys, with pocket change, with stray Legos — because it is.

Well, crap, I thought, when I caught word that Apple was yanking the iPod Classic.  I need to get another one of these.  So I went on the Net to order one.  Turns out I was on the back end of a get-'em-while-you-can buying frenzy.  After an extended period of panic I did find one to buy.  Paid through the nose for it, but now I have an IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS backup iPod Classic.

Last week, over wings, a great friend of mine who works for Bose told me that I'm one of a handful of people in the world who cares about the iPod Classic and its optimization of portability, manipulability, mass storage, and battery life.  Predictably, he started talking to me about Spotify.  And then, grabbing my arm, he started ranting at me, like the Ancient Mariner, about the Next Big Thing: Deezer, the French Spotify-like company that recently partnered with Bose.  Same story — you can listen to whatever you want whenever you want, so long as you have an Internet connection, and whether or not you ever bought a copy of it ten years ago.  "So who needs storage?" he declared.  You frickin' dinosaur, he intimated.  I wiped buffalo sauce off my arm and turned away.

Spotify, Deezer, etc. don't answer my what-ifs.  What if you don't have an Internet connection?  What if you don't have an unlimited data plan?  What if I don't want to share my phone's memory and battery life with my music player's?  Might be this makes me into something of a limited-scope survivalist.  No, I don't store a hundred jugs of water in my basement.  But I need to have at least two iPods, so that when the civil order collapses, the cell towers go down, the Internet goes offline, I can grab a gas-powered generator and wait out the riots listening to The Velvet Underground and Nico.

This is going to come out curmudgeony, but I should note, too, that my iPod, my iTunes Library isn't just a pile of music.  It's a compilation of triggers that allow me to access about a hundred thousand iterations of self.  I want those selves contained and identifiable, because they're mine.  I don't want to have to dip into some massive, fully-licensed hive mind all day every day and extract shards of me from it.

I thank God Apple made the iPod Classic.  I thank God that I rolled out of the cave, Indiana Jones-style, with a second one in my hand before the door closed forever.  But out there in the corner of my consciousness there is this persistent anxiety: What ho, Phutatorius!  All seems well for now, but WHAT IF THEY BOTH BREAK?