September 10, 2014
by Bryne Yancey

First came the touch screens that made the feel and touch of a click wheel seem bulky and rudimentary, then came streaming music services that yielded ripped CDs and purchased (or stolen) MP3s unnecessary. The iPod Classic, a short time ago the nascent technology that promised to Change The Way We Listen To Music Forever, is now a thing of the past, another unfortunate casualty of the mile-a-minute advancement/assault of technology on our eyes, ears, hands and brains. The iPod Classic is dead; long live the iPod Classic.

For those of us approaching 30 or already north of it, those of us who grew up strapping our Walkmans, and then Discmans, to our belt loops, the iPod Classic was a generation-shifting invention. It predated mammoth smartphones with the ability to store and play music, or other brands of iPods loaded with apps long after it was decided that kids cared far more about games than music, or iPods built to shuffle your music and throw more dirt on the grave of the allure of the album. When the iPod Classic debuted, I’m pretty sure I still had the brick Nokia cell phone, the one with the Snake game on it. I never imagined then that now everyone would be glued to their phones everywhere, all the time. A phone, really? The thing my mom calls me on when I’m at the mall? The thing I wish I never had to carry?

The iPod Classic had, essentially, one basic function: to store and play albums on command. It did one thing, and did it very well. Now, of course, we need our devices to do everything for us, from giving us directions to taking our photos to forging “connections” with people across the world. It is a tool that is treated as a large extension of our continually shriveling intimate human existence. The iPod, though, was just a tool and a wonderful one that allowed us to take our entire music collections anywhere we went; the distinction is important because, while Spotify and the like can mirror that function, is streaming music really ours? As great as the technology is, there’s a certain hollowness to it that didn’t used to be there.

Of course, by the time the internet became a household requirement, we were all stealing most, if not all of our music and loading it onto our iPods. This new “sharing economy” caused the record industry to falter, and it has never recovered. Eventually, streaming music services appeared as an alternative, and while the record industry has yet to figure out how to properly monetize them to the benefit of their artists, we consumers joined them and unknowingly gave ourselves option paralysis, as every day we sit at our desks or on the train or at home, trying to figure out what to listen to from a seemingly infinite library of music in this, The Age Of Infinite Browsing.

It could certainly be argued that the prevalence of the iPod exacerbated the devaluation of music as both art form and commerce, but, at this point it seems fair to assume that it would’ve happened with or without the iPod. Much like the commercialization of Christmas it is, at best, a mixed blessing. But I have great memories of loading up my 80 GB fifth generation iPod with bought, borrowed and pirated music, making playlists for long road trips, and dangerously blaring music into my ears on extended bike rides, among many other things. I’m sad about the iPod Classic no longer being in production, but those already manufactured will live on during those road trips and in living rooms and pockets and pawn shop glass displays. It’ll be alright. Now what should I listen to and then immediately forget I heard on Spotify?