How The Now-Obsolete iPod Changed The World As We Know It

by John Flynn

Music was no longer a special privilege for the home or the limited and cumbersome experience the Walkman provided.

Instead, whatever music you wanted was at your fingertips, always. At any idle moment, you could whip out those enameled white headphones and choose exactly what you wanted to hear.

The iPod is relevant again after being dormant in the news cycle for some time, as it is a major seller this holiday season.

Apple discontinued the chunky rectangle earlier this year because another version after the basically perfected sixth generation had attracted limited customer interest.

This year's popularity is likely just a case of people wanting what they can't have.

When my dad brought one home for the first time, I was mesmerized -- the sleek white front, the polished steel back, the subtle buttons, the click wheel, the LCD screen, the headphones, the everything. I'd never seen anything more perfect.

Everything I knew about how to listen to music went out the window. The iPod was advanced enough technology to be indistinguishable from magic. It was and is one of the greatest human inventions.

After the iPod, the world grew quicker. As music became fingertip-accessible, we wanted everything at our disposal.

Now, via the iPod's evolutionary successor, I can contact anyone and find every known piece of information. Once the iPod brought the world into our hands, we never let go.

The iPod is also directly responsible for the head-buried-in-the-screen trend we are embarrassed to admit exists. The downside of everything being a few taps away means that wherever I am may not feel good enough.

The second I hunger for something more, my phone offers me a limitless source of entertainment. While this has essentially cured boredom, we have lost many of the awkward experiences that had once been hallmarks of humanity.

When we're waiting in line, at an uncomfortable party or traveling, we dive right into our phones.

Before smartphones, strangers were more willing to talk to one another to pass the time, and while we're nose-deep in Candy Crush, we could be missing out on potential spouses, new friends or just quirky characters.

But, we have a tendency to romanticize the past. For every mate, friend, or wise soul met, there were also loonies, creeps and cheats. People have always avoided contact with strangers for the same reasons we do now: We're tired, it's awkward and they might be weird.

We may be a bit more closed off now, but humans have always kept to themselves. iProducts merely took the place of books, newspapers and staring off into space. And, it's not like we've become less social -- we're now more connected than ever before.

But, now we get to choose the people we meet by seeking them out online instead of letting life throw at us whatever it had in store. We've lost a bit of randomness in our social lives, but it's easier now to discover what we want, or at least what we think we want.

After this holiday season's bout of nostalgia passes, the iPod will likely go the way of the flip phone and become a relic of innovation.

There will still be some utilitarians who seek out the device for its massive 40,000-song storage capacity, but outside those guys, fogies and whatever crop of hipster nouveau matures in the next few years, the iPod will die off in physical form.

However, there will be a long spiritual life for the iPod. Just as the floppy disk became obsolete, but remained the universal symbol for "save," so, too, will the iPod's iconic click-wheel and screen be immortalized as the symbol for "mp3 player."

The newest advancements have been designed down to a screen. A 2-D rendering of them is a black rectangle, but the iPod Classic is an immediately recognizable product. It will live on as a reminder of the mp3's magical beginning.

Dozens of years from now, my grandson will hover over me and hyperlink the chips implanted in both our heads and ask about that little rectangle with the circle and the square on it that allows him to play music.

And, I'll tell him, back in my day, that rectangle changed everything.