Tuesday, December 15, 2009
#18 - iPod
It was the decade when...
We all became pod people.
Imagine if you will dressing a mannequin up in the full regalia of the decade. Your task is to make the mannequin the emblematic representation of the era using only the language of clothing and accessories. Obviously, as this blog has demonstrated, there are lots of directions you could take this task. Is the mannequin a boy in skinny jeans or a girl in boho-chic skirt? Should it be early or late Aughts? Hipster or socialite? Uggs or Crocs? One accessory, however, is to be included without question. One item that, if excluded, would leave the mise-en-scene curiously lacking. Emerging from the pant pocket and rising up to the mannequin's ears are two unmissable strands of white plastic which expand out to form two bulbous tips at their end. They are ear buds, the universal symbol announcing that this mannequin is an owner of the consumer product of the Aughts, the iPod.
Here is a object that drives otherwise critically minded people into a hyperbolic frenzy; speaking in tongues and sonnets of devotion are not uncommon. Both Gadgetheads and technophobes ended up embracing the device, the former for the Pod's technical prowess and revolutionary design structure, the latter for its ridiculously easy-to-use interface and catchy television commercials featuring dancing silhouettes. When Marx wrote of commodity fetishism he must have had a vision of iPod, though Marx was perhaps too short-sighted: As Apple's now iconic MP3 player was marching onward and upward, conquering the world like some Napoleonic gadget, its devotees moved beyond fetishism, approaching, ever closer, devotion and then, finally, worship. iPod is the new opiate for the masses. It has no competitor. Pity the poor fool who shows his face in public with a Zune. Even Hester Prynee would snicker. The iPod rules. Swept up in the fervor, Newsweek journalist Stephen Levy wrote a 2006 book on the iPod's cultural impact. The title: The Perfect Thing. Don't be coy with us now Levy, tell us what you really think.
Before the product reached total cultural ubiquity, sporting the iPod's signature and near luminescent white ear buds - perhaps the best aesthetic idea in a product line replete with design brilliance - whilst strolling a busy avenue immediately gave you a cache of "with-it"-ness that garnered no small number of envious glances from those sad sacks still forced to go about their day in the bland humdrum of music-less existence. Now that everyone in America save the Pennsylvania Dutch own an iPod of their own the exclusivity of the object has waned; the iPod is less a demarcation of status and has become a modern necessity, which is what a "must-have" object turns into when, in fact, you actually must have it. Steve Jobs gave all our lives a soundtrack. Walkman who?
I don't need to tell you that the iPod changed the entire of financial model of the music business, or rather, decimated it; the iTunes Store leveling both Tower Records and Vigin Megastore outlets, leviathans of the industry both. I don't need to tell you that what began as cigarette pack-sized white box that held 1000-songs has evolved into an entire product line of astoundingly smaller and more colorful iterations that have developed the ability to play not only music, but movies and television programs as well. And I definitely don't need to tell you that only Apple, with the advent of the iPhone, could make a product that could eclipse the iPod in pure lustful consumer desire. (Of course the iPhone is an iPod too. Natch!)
Even I, attempting to snarkify the cultural impact of the iPod for your reading pleasure, can't help but get swept up by brilliance of the machine. Even its name is perfect, both unforgettably simple (four letters, two syllables with that fantastic plosive "P" and satisfyingly confident "D" framing the resonating vowel "awe," - it's just fun to say), and vaguely bio-futuristic, pod being a word most likely found, before the Aughts, in a dime science fiction novel or biology textbook. Chosen by the prototype's resemblance to The HAL 9000 ("Open the pod bay doors Hal") the iPod debut year of 2001 was not without some literary resonance. The future indeed, was here.
The iPod; it's both a noun and complete sentence. iPod, do you? (You do.)
You AUGHT to remember...