One PC/Android Guy's Tribute to Steve Jobs

Like the millions of people around the world mourning the death of Apple’s Steve Jobs, I, too, am thinking about how my whole view of technology and the world has been shaped by Apple products — even though I’ve happily been a PC guy for decades and an avid Android user now. Sorry, I’m just not an Apple guy, even though I know my computer would be way more impersonal and my phone way dumber if Apple’s innovations haven’t paved the way.

But there’s one Apple gadget that I would cling to longer than any other, that I use more than any other. For it and it alone, I will be eternally grateful to Steve Jobs for improving my life. And that gadget is not the iPhone 4 or the MacBook Air — but the now-humble iPod Classic.

It now seems like ancient history how much a sea change was caused by this device, both in the broader business sense, but also in the most personal experience. I’m not an early adapter, so my first iPod was a third-generation 40GB. I remember when I first loaded music on it, listened to it in my apartment, and started boinging around — yes, I did the iPod dance, as the iconic TV ads had it. The novelty certainly wasn’t listening to the music on headphones, since Walkmans and Discmans had long preceded it, but it was how much music instantly became available. This was of crucial importance to me: I’ve been collecting music since my tween years in the early ’80s. Music is — and always will be — my first love, and as with any obsessive nerd, I have had a soundtrack accompanying the vast majority of my life. But by 2004, my music collection had exploded from hundreds of LPs to a couple thousand CDs, and it had gotten so ungainly that I’d hardly listened to most of it. In fact, it had gotten so indulgently excessive as a waste of space and money that I began to despise it and started selling the CDs. (I’m even embarrassed writing this now.) Soon, I was spending more time getting into cinema than listening to music.

With an iPod, this all changed. Steve Jobs hardly invented digital tunes or portability, but he did combine them in such a way that all this music could be kept on my computer and a large chunk of it could follow me wherever I could go. Now with my 120GB iPod, I can keep required music on at all times (complete Beatles, the Clash, Led Zeppelin) or immerse myself in some eclectic obsession for a while (all 45 Fela Kuti albums, dub reggae marathons, hours of free jazz). I have my workout tunes, my working-in-the-office albums, my road-trip favorites, and even my dance-party playlist for my tweener nieces handy at all times. By having all the music so closely aligned and available in album form or in shuffle, the boundaries between genres are obliterated. I can listen to Slayer, Earth Wind & Fire, Miles Davis, and Kraftwerk during my lunchtime errands, and it all sounds good and fits together. The world of music has expanded into larger and larger orbits, all thanks to this object that made the physical ownership of it manageably small. As a result, music has become fused with our lives more than ever before.

Everyone knows the downsides, of course. Music is more disposable now that a single consists of a few megabytes for 99 cents. Thanks to 192 and 256 KBps quality, hi-fi audio has become only a specialist’s realm, much like collecting first-edition hardcovers. Our beloved record stores are still dying by the dozens. Some would argue that there’s almost too much music available out there now for a new artist to make any difference, and even though Apple’s iTunes showed that digital music can make money for these artists, there’s still so little percentage and so much piracy for most musicians to make a reliable living.

But I would argue the upsides as well: Music has never been more plentiful and that’s a good thing. New artists can get lost in the shuffle, but they can also distribute their music more easily than ever, by doing so digitally. It’s much easier for record companies to make digital versions of hard-to-find music, and legendary indie labels like 4ad and Thrill Jockey or jazz labels like Impulse and ECM have been exemplary in make long out-of-print albums available again. After all, it’s now economically feasible to do so if you don’t have to manufacture a physical object. The history of music has been exponentially deepened thanks to the iPod.

Schopenhauer once wrote that music is the most metaphysical art of all — compared to painting, poetry, sculpture, and architecture — because it provides the most subjective experience. Whether in a concert hall, over stereo speakers, or piped in through your earbuds, music is a part of you, coloring your memories and making the mundane experiences like a walk to the bus become fraught with meaning. My iPod carries the first-ever albums my parents bought for me (U2’s October and XTC’s English Settlement, on my 11th birthday), as well as the most recent album I bought myself (Ladytron’s new Gravity the Seducer, just last week). I get to carry a big bulk of my musical life around with me wherever I go, and I can keep adding to it whenever I want. I will forever be glad that it brought me back in synch with my soundtrack. Thank you so very much, Steve Jobs.