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Five years…

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

That’s not just the name of a David Bowie song, it’s the exact time elapsed since Steve Jobs introduced iPod to the world. On October 23, 2001, he reached into his jeans and came out with that white box. Naturally, this was the perfect day to publish a book about the iPod, so we chose it as the official publication day. I was on the CBS Early Show this morning and yesterday posted a tribute to iPod and the shuffle in the L.A. Times.

Because the Early Show is produced in the GM Building on 58 and 5th it was a natural for Harry Smith to interview me outside–with the backdrop of the giant cube of the Apple Store right there in the plaza. At one point Smith (who is a terrific interviewer) looked over at that massive cube and asked me if I thought it would be there if not for the iPod. That was a great question, and my answer was no, I didn’t think so. Though Apple is doing very well with the Macintosh, I think that the iPod is a fantastic draw for the stores, and the flagship image for Apple. Something very few people would have predicted five years ago.

Another nice experience today: a meaty rumination on the book and the iPod in Salon.


  • Five years of contrived cool. There is nothing inherently cool about the iPod. Its coolness derives from the careful planning of advertising, marketing and PR people at Apple Computer Inc. and TWBA/Chiat Day. The “silhouettes” are but one step in the last five years of promotion of cunningly and precisely crafting this image of cool for these little boxes of circuit boards and hard (or flash) drives.

    I had bad experiences with iPods; one had a bad Click Wheel, and the other a hard drive that died, uttering sounds as if a kitten were trapped in the machine’s stainless steel and polycarbonate enclosure. I have always been a Lone Wolf, refusing trends and fads embraced by the rest of the pack. I was foolish to even try Apple’s device and now regret my brush with the iPod Nation. I am back to refusing to run with the pack that embraces Apple’s devilishly seductive machine.

    Funny, I used to be a Walkman diehard, but that was because Sony built those suckers to LAST. With iPod, you get built-in obsolescence, with new models rushed out every nine to 12 months. All assembled by Chinese living in stinky, packaged dorms and murky sweatshops in an industrial village. All so the First World can have something they think is so cool, so of its timeframe, representative of its zeitgeist. A signature or imprimatur on the Digital Age.

    Examine the homepage of this site to see how Levy is caught up in the zeitgeist: in a photo by his wife, he beams while wearing a T-shirt for the Cube (Apple’s flagship NYC Fifth Avenue store) and is plugged into his iPod. So of the timeframe.

    But eras come and go, and technology advances. I do not totally condemn Apple and at age 45 may soon become a Mac user, as I seriously contemplate the MacBook Pro. But nothing, not a 20-mule team or torturers from Room 101 (Orwell’s “1984”) will return me to iPod.

    I cringe at the continued existence of the White Earphones Brigade. I mutter to myself, “Make the bad Apples go away” and hope that musical phones or PDAs will soon whip those little Click Wheel’d things’ butts. You know, a few more years, and Apple will be triumphing with something else, mabye iTV or some other product of technical convergence.

    I picked up “The Perfect Thing,” well aware that the iPod had five candles on its cake. I started to read it, and it literally gave me a nightmare the third day I was turning its pages. I’d finished the chapter on design, where Jonathan Ive gushed about the wondrousness of white, and Levy compared the machine’s ashen look to … Moby Dick?!!!

    I drifted off to sleep and found myself in something like one of the bad horror B movies I used to watch on Saturday afternoon TV back in the 1970s. I was viewing it as a third person, as we do all movies, but seeing myself as the lead. I was this investigative reporter who had traveled to this “iPod village” of white earbud worshippers. They were still even working on the guest house where I was to stay. A construction worker in earbuds winked at me from the window as I closed the curtains.

    Weary, I disrobed as I prepared to shower (but no nudity). I went into the shower, the camera of my dream zoomed out and panned down, and there was a monster at the bottom of the frame, stalking me. Its tiny earbud headphones trailed out ahead of it … it was a sentient iPod, creeping up on me to implant itself on me, Borg-like, and assimilate me into its Nation.

    “Mom!” A voice cut out the shower image. “MOM!” I woke up. My daughter had saved me. I was in the master bedroom, secure in my home. And five years after the iPod, I was free.

  • I guess the “Five years…” spot is the right place to post my comment. I just finished reading Pefect Thing this morning, my iPod shuffle playing the background through the stereo, via a docking station. One phenomenon that has been developing over these same five years, and on which you didn’t comment, is that of satellite radio. I have two Sirius receivers, plug ‘n’ play models, that I could move from car to car, as well as to a docking station hooked to the stereo. When I first got Sirius, I noticed how rarely I listened to “normal” radio. Also rarely purchased CDs. Then a year ago I purchased my first (30G) iPod. There are now two in my possession, one exclusively for music, the other primarily speech (NPR, sermons, lectures, but yes, also some music I like but my wife doesn’t particularly), and today I finally did the inevitable: removed the Sirius receiver and mounting pedestal from my car: it had become redundant. I will cancel my annual subscription when it next expires.
    I wonder how many other early adapters of satellite radio have done the same … the iPod is, as you point out repeatedly, the ideal mix of the ideal selection of songs — my own!

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