Friday, October 20, 2006

Oh iPod, how you've changed my life.

I've been musing on an iPod piece for a while but never got around to it before. But with the iPod turning 5 on Monday, it seems like the appropriate time for it. I hesitated to write this piece. So much has been written about the iPod; what could I possible add? But any way I look at it, my iPod has had such an important effect on my life that I feel compelled to write about it. If you think such an article will bore you, stop reading now. But if you're an iPod lover, or if you need some encouragement to take the plunge, read on.

When I bought my iPod--a 4th generation monochrome 40 GB model--about 18 months ago, it was mostly an indulgence, a toy to ease me over the 40th birthday blues (40 years, 40 GB, get it?). Oh, I was able to justify it in part by using it as a backup drive, but to say that it was a completely utilitarian purchase would be disingenuous. Even so, I had little inkling of just how thoroughly this diminutive piece of consumer electronics would rock my world, both literally and figuratively.

At first, merely the idea that I could carry my entire not-inconsiderable CD collection around in my pocket was amazing to me. Somehow, this simple fact makes me feel both powerful and free. In any given situation, I can set the soundtrack of my life to whatever music I fancy. And then there is the whole idea of shuffle. When you set your entire music collection--in my case almost 3800 songs from just about every genre you can think of--on shuffle, that "soundtrack" becomes an incredibly varied and unpredictable string of music. Just imagine walking down the street on a crisp October evening, while your iPod jumps from Gesualdo to the Allan Parson's Project to Alessandro Scarlatti to the Yellowjackets to David Bowie to Mahler to Bach to Franz Ferdinand... and on it goes. At first it's somewhat disconcerting, but once in a while, iPod and shuffle create a serendipitous union of moment and music that could never have happened any other way. Plus, shuffle means random (or so they say; I sometimes wonder), so it burrows into your music collection with ruthless objectivity, helping you to discover albums and artists that you had almost forgotten you had.

Another beautiful thing about having your entire music collection in your pocket is that it's always there. I know that sounds obvious, but if your soundtrack is crying out for a certain piece of music, genre or artist, and you know it's just a few clicks of the scroll wheel away, it's an incredibly liberating feeling. If you're on a train in Norway, as I recently was, and you want to listen to what Grieg had to say about the fjords, you can do that, and it's only a matter of time before it brings tears to your eyes.

Of course, the other great thing about the modern digital media player and the new Internet is podcasting. Podcasts have changed the way I listen to radio. To be more accurate, I don't listen to radio anymore. It's all podcasts now. An FM transmitter for my iPod means I'm not a slave to the radio DJ even in the car. Even before I got the iPod, I listened mostly to talk radio anyway, but with the iPod, talk radio has become a much more diverse ecosystem. I'm a huge fan of public radio, and most public radio networks around the world are making at least some of their programming available as podcasts now. Which means I have access to great programming from the BBC, Australia's ABC, U.S. NPR, and of course Canada's own CBC. And then there are the thousands of private podcasters springing up. Sure, there is a lot of chaff, but there are also some really fantastic programs out there that would never have made it onto the traditional airwaves.

Having all my music and talk radio with me in my pocket also makes doing chores and yard work much less tedious. Heck, I even look forward to mowing the lawn now. Walking to the bus or subway station used to be a boring prospect; now I just have to make sure my iPod is updated with my latest podcasts and I'm all set. There's never any reason to be bored with my iPod in my pocket.

And believe me, my iPod is ALWAYS in my pocket. And not just for all the aforementioned reasons. My iPod also serves as my computer backup. Yes, even with my entire music collection and a serious line up of podcasts, along with my calendars and contacts, there is still enough room to do a substantial backup. I generally keep all my work-critical files, along with any personal documents I wouldn't want to lose, and my archive. I also keep a backup of my pictures, and of course, my music is backed up just by being on my iPod. So I can leave home knowing that even if my computers are stolen or, god forbid, the house burns down, my most precious data is safely tucked away in my pocket.

So happy birthday iPod. I'm so glad we met. I can't imagine life without you now.

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