When I was much, much younger I wore watches but quickly tired of the habit – they would either break or get lost, like umbrellas and sunglasses. Living in a city at that time obviated the need for a watch, since every bank had a clock and there were office buildings with clock towers and you rarely had to look for long before you knew what time it was. It was like finding a Starbucks today. I haven’t worn a wristwatch in 20 years – I think the kicker was a digital watch I bought in Bangkok for $2 in 1986, which fell apart in two days. I also didn’t like having one on my wrist – the leather straps were smelly and I didn’t like the stretch bands much more.
I got a watch from my sister Laura that hung on my belt a few years ago, and had another clip watch about four years ago. Each lasted a year or so – it seemed they were becoming more necessary as the public clock began to vanish. But after the second died I didn’t bother to replace it. I experienced watches. I know what they are like. No need for a habit. Like ice cream, I gave it up and that’s that. I remember it and that is enough.
Many blogs ago (about 14 months) I ranted about how I have traveled all over the world, solo, with my wife, with my wife and small children – and never needed a mobile phone. We got one (1) a year ago, and I have used it, which is fun for a few minutes. It is also becoming necessary because there are no more public phones(except in New York, for some reason). That, and an onerous contract, are the reasons we have one. They certainly aren’t worth $1.40 a day.
Now, if I was current, this would be about the iPhone, but I am neither current nor rich, nor do I have illusions about becoming either, so you shan’t hear about iPhones from me. It is about the older technology: the iPod. I was never a huge fan of personal music – when I was in college, boom boxes were big (in both senses of the word) and like most young men I was enthusiastic about forcing my boombastic music tastes on an unsuspecting public. The idea of keeping music to oneself was pointless. I had a cassette player with headphones in the mid-80s to which l rigged up speakers on a belt so I could have a soundtrack as I skated through the streets and along the lakefront.
Then, twenty years later, on an impulse, I mentioned I might like an iPod for my birthday and I was genuinely shocked when my wife got me one. I loaded it up with all my old favorite songs from 20 and 30 years ago and a few newer ones from old CDs. I took advantage of the personal aspect of iPodism and only got the kind of guitar-based rock and punk that I have always liked – no concessions to anyone’s taste but my own. . I even bought a couple songs off iTunes. After two days I had 135 songs I liked. Actually, my choices were well-suited to the iPod’s vaunted aural mediocrity – the “thin” guitars of Talking Heads and Gang of Four sound just fine on an iPod. I rode my bike with those ill-fitting ear buds and it was exhilirating, like skating the lakefront all those years ago. Hell, it was the same songs. I also started to experience the social disconnect of having music in your head while people are trying to talk to you.
And then it was over, stolen out of my house along with my wife’s camera. But it was a fun three days that I will always treasure. Now I know what it is like, and why it is popular. I also got to rekindle decades-old memories and feel the youthful thrill of music-driven wheeled flight through summer sunshine. I also know why so many young people are getting into vinyl after the teeny tinny tintinnabulations of low-fi iPods. I think I really had all of the experiences, plus and minus, that one can have with these devices and I am supremely grateful to my family for giving me that. I’m also sort of grateful to the thief for preventing it from becoming a habit. iPod, meet ice cream.