I was 19 years old when I got my first Walkman. It played cassettes, which while more compact than vinyl LPs (which was the dominant format for commercially purchased music at the time), they were large enough that carrying around more than a few albums worth of songs could be a bit awkward. So I usually had only one or two tapes with me at any time, and therefore tended to listen to the same album over and over again throughout a day.
I wore that first personal cassette player out after a year or two, and got another. It was about the third or fourth before I got one that had a built-in radio, as well. By then I was out of college and working full-time in downtown Seattle. The fact that I would only carry one or two tapes around with me was a bit easier to deal with since I could switch over to the radio, though I tended to listen to NPR, rather than music.
I think I was in my early 30s when I finally broke down and switched to a Discman, which would play CDs, rather than cassettes. CDs had several advantages over tapes, as they couldn’t get tangled, they didn’t stretch (leading to distorted sound), they could hold a lot of music, and since they were flat, it was a bit easier to carry a bunch with you.
I eventually started carrying a case with 30-some discs in it, which seemed like an incredible number of albums to carry around with you. It was still a very small part of my library, but it gave me more than a bit of variety.
Occasionally friends and acquaintances would try to convince me of the virtues of MP3 players. You didn’t have to swap out discs to change albums, because you loading digital copies of the songs into the players. But I was resistant.
I was resistant to the whole idea of a digital music library. I had seen too many people lose years of stories or other data on computers because the software they had created it in became unavailable. I had also, by that time, gone through both the transition from vinyl music to CD, and from movies on VHS to DVD, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through yet another round of time and expense of replicating my existing library in a new format, particularly if it would all become obsolete in just a few years.
On the other hand, I had imported a small subset of my CD music library onto my PC. It was music which I liked to listen to while I was writing, and I had to admit that it was nice to be able to switch albums without physically getting up and tracking down a disc. And my PDA (remember those?) had a music playing app on it. But it didn’t have enough memory to hold very many songs. So while I loaded some music on it, I didn’t really use it. And I was still very suspicious of the idea of digital libraries.
So I resisted. And the more some of my friends tried to convince me to switch, the more stubborn my (ever less rational) objections became.
Then my husband did something truly evil and unfair.
He bought me an iPod Nano for my birthday.
This was unfair because it was a birthday present from my husband. I had to at least try it. It would have been rude not to.
As it happened, the music software I had installed on my PC was iTunes, so it was easy to load the music I had already converted onto the iPod.
My birthday is in late September, by Thanksgiving I had imported at least a hundred CDs into my iTunes library. But none of it was my Christmas music. I spent the Thanksgiving weekend importing Christmas albums, so I could fill the iPod’s 4 gigs with Christmas music. Please note: I couldn’t fit all the Christmas music I owed at the time into a 4gig iPod, I had to decide which music not to put on.
I was importing music, making playlists, and debating the pros and cons of digital formats before I knew it. And the next year, just a week before my birthday, the first iPod Touch was released. And my silly (evil, sneaky) husband bought me one for my birthday.
It was 8gig! Twice the storage of my iPod, and it could play music videos!
Fast forward to now, when I regularly juggle music on my 64gig iPhone, because I can’t fit my entire library on it, so I have to pick and choose. I imported all my CDs long ago, and have almost (but not quite) completely stopped buying CDs. I still buy music—lots of music—but the majority of my purchases are downloads over the web.
My iPhone isn’t just a music player. It’s a phone, of course, and my primary email reader, my pocket notebook for writing on the go, my portable web browser for looking things up, the place where I check Twitter and send silly messages to whoever is crazy enough to follow me. I don’t buy cheap paperback books much, any more. I still buy hardcopy books, but I used to pick up lighter reading in pocket-sized paperback form so I could carry them around with me to read, like on the bus (while listening to music on headphones).
Now, I buy them as iBooks or in Kindle format and read them off the phone (while listening to music on my wireless headphones).
My new iPhone arrived earlier this week, replacing my two-year-old phone. Despite some people characterizing it as “merely” an incremental update, switching from two models back seems like a giant leap. How much faster and easier it is to log in with the Touch ID instead of having to swipe, enter my pass code (which I tended to mistype about one-third of the time) alone makes it feel as if I’ve jumped a century ahead in technology.
So I’ve been less productive the last couple days, because I’ve been playing with my shiny new toy. Which I know is in many ways not a lot different than the previous one, or the one before that, or… but it’s new. It’s fast. It does a few things the old one didn’t.
And it’s so shiny!