Steve Jobs, And How The IPod Changed My Life

Steve Jobs resigned on Wednesday, our MacBooks didn't collectively implode, and life continues to go on as normal. But when, and how exactly, did this life -- full of tablets and internet phones and applications that point out the best restaurants in a certain cardinal direction -- become normal?

It's hard to wrap your brain around how Apple has changed our lives and the way we interact with one other -- and ourselves -- so much. It's not a question of Mac vs. PC anymore -- we're living in a Mac world whether you've embraced it or not, and Jobs has been the brains of that world.

Apple, more than any other company, has factored us, the people, into their products. They were able to pinpoint that form and function are as valued in products as they are in humans. Plenty of companies out there have caught on to this deceptively simple concept, but with every new gadget, Apple has set the trends, and everyone else has just scrambled to catch up, whether its the latest mp3 player or tablet.

Nowadays, it's easier to toss off every new iteration of the iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and so on, as they trickle out with more features tacked on here and there, especially when you're a more casual observer of these developments. Sure, it's still impressive, but remember when in lived in a world where it was completely unprecedented?

A commercial for the first iMac back in 1998, narrated by Jeff Goldblum, encapsulates this sense of wonder well, as he explains how the computer-internet connection only takes two steps. Goldblum famously cried out in amazement, "There's no step three!"

But just a few years after that came an even bigger watershed moment: the iPod. I remember my first iPod clearly, and I remember being a different person then.

The iPod was first released almost 10 years ago, on Nov. 10, 2001. I was in high school at the time, and as with most things, it took me a few years to catch up. $300 was a lot of money, and besides, I had a Walkman I could hook up to my car stereo.

Once I entered college, having a Walkman you could hook into your car stereo didn't seem quite as cool anymore. By then the iPod had entered its fourth generation, and I was starting to feel the social burn of not having one.

So I caved and got my first iPod, and I spent the rest of that Friday night uploading my music to it. You don't often remember the Friday nights you spent sitting at home, but this is one I'll never forget. I even read the manual, and I never read manuals. It wasn't until this moment that I realized what everyone had said was actually true -- I could have everything I wanted, all in one place. I could really, really have it all.

Not only that, but the world suddenly looked like a different place once I joined the iPod-carrying club. I noticed those who had iPods and those who didn't. I remember getting on a bus for the first time with my iPod, hoping everyone saw that I, too, had those glowing white headphones hanging from my ears. That I had a 30G iPod, not just a Nano, or a shuffle, because that automatically meant I was cooler, right?

Yes, this is all very petty and frivolous, but that doesn't make it any less definitive of the moment. It changed my life in bigger ways, too, affecting how I interacted with myself and others. The iPod broadened my internal world, as music began to play a bigger role as the soundtrack to my life, from guiding the different routes I took around campus to the trains I hopped through Europe. I had gained a new friend, and I could take it everywhere with me.

On the flipside, the iPod narrowed my external world. I didn't have to acknowledge the person handing out flyers on campus, and I could justifiably ignore that obnoxious kid from class, very much in my eyesight -- can't you see I have headphones in my ears? It was the convenient excuse I had always been looking for to close out the world and immerse in my own, similar to how I had used books as a kid.

But the iPod also marked the first time I actually felt overwhelmed by something that was purely for enjoyment. Giving people everything they want is a tricky business to manage, because it creates new levels of dissatisfaction with what they have. Suddenly, everything isn't good enough. Sure, I could listen to any album I wanted, but at times, none of it seemed all that good anymore. Why would I want to listen to anything in particular when I could listen to anything?

This is partially why Bon Jovi holds Jobs responsible for "killing the music business": "Kids today have missed the whole experience of putting the headphones on, turning it up to 10, holding the jacket, closing their eyes and getting lost in an album," he said back in March. It's true -- the iPod, and iTunes more specifically, have changed the way we listen to music, glorifying the single over the album, and forcing artists to turn to their tours as a greater source of income. Others have cast this shift in a more positive light, calling Jobs a "music visionary." No doubt he's both killed the business and brought it back in a different form, and whether that's for better or for worse is really a personal call.

Nowadays, the iPod has become a symbol of simpler days. If you just glance around the subway, we've moved beyond the "iPod as status symbol" phase, and into more expansive territory. The iPod is close to becoming just another piece of history, and I'm as much to blame as anyone -- I cruelly tossed aside my old friend this year when I felt the social burn of not having an iPhone (which was also life-changing, but I was ready for it this time). As dear as it's been to me, I don't need my iPod anymore.

A friend of mine once went on a trip to Germany and saw the model of iMac we were using to put out our college newspaper -- the ones that look like they have a tumor protruding out the back -- in a museum. Things move fast in a Mac world, almost too fast to keep up with. But when Mac products are already being viewed as artifacts gathering dust in museums, no one can say Steve Jobs hasn't made history every step of the way.

My Old iPod and My (Then) New iPod [2004]

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