Discovery

Apple I have always been an Apple kind of fellow. Apple computers, that is. Nothing against the fruit the computers are named for, but I do tend to prefer oranges. I remember growing up with strange, variant PCs but the computers in our home that really stood out were the Apple products. To this day my Dad still has one of the old school tower models in black and white as well as a Color Classic. As a technology buff with disposable income my father has always been an early adopter and when he buys something new I tend to get the “old” things. Dad has always used both PCs and Apples and he has always moved towards embracing the new. Matter of fact he was a bit ahead of his time, perhaps, as the only person I have ever met that owned a Newton! My own first computer was a Mac Quadra, one of the “pizza box” Macs of the early/mid-90s. When I graduated from MSU in 1999 I got a G3 tower. At some point I ended up with a G4 tower; when I moved up north this was the computer I brought with me. This gave way to an old iMac G5 from my parent’s basement and when that went kaput I got the iMac that I’m typing this screed on. My first laptop was an old Powerbook with a 512MB hard drive. In 2001 I got a Powerbook G4 laptop that remains my favorite laptop all time in terms of what it could do, how it typed, how it felt and how it worked. As it died it was supplanted by a 17” G4 laptop. This most recent laptop is in desperate need of replacement as the hard drive is messed up and the battery only holds a charge for 18 minutes. Why is this relevant to this column, one that is about music?

ipod

First generation iPod

See, any discussion nowadays about Apple Computers will revolve around music. In 2001, when I got the new laptop it came with a pre-installed program that was relatively new called iTunes. The laptop found its way into my hands in early 2001. iTunes was released as a program in January 2001. That fall the first iPod was released. Chalk white with a blue LCD screen and click wheel, the first iPod was something different. Anyone could have a huge portable music library available to carry around. Napster had just been shut down as an avenue to find music online and lots of people were still discovering just how much music could be carried around at one time. I guess at the time, in 2001, things just were different. It took two years for the iTunes Store to open, eventually hanging its shingle in 2003. Nobody reading this site is unaware of the iTunes store. It took Apple 1033 days to sell one billion (yes, billion) songs online. It took 1359 more days to bring that sales total to ten billion. Think about this one. It took Apple 2.8 years to sell 1,000,000,000 songs. It took them only 3.7 more years to increase that number by a factor of ten.

iPod green

Green iPod Mini

It is now February of 2011. I own seven iPods. I have my own original iPod as well as my sister’s first generation iPod. In 2004 for Christmas I was given the first edition U2 iPod and in 2006 I was given a Video iPod. Somewhere in here I got a first generation green iPod Mini. In late 2006 I purchased one of the new, matchbook-sized iPod Shuffles and in 2009 I got my iPod Touch. Honestly I use the last two more than the first five combined. I love my shuffle. I got it when my wife was pregnant with our son and I carry it everywhere and use it for working out and for running. The iPod Touch is one of my favorite things I carry in my pockets. I was slightly giddy twice in the past three months as I thought I would be needing to replace it with a newer, camera-enabled model due to losing the player and then dropping it in the snow. In the case of the former I finally really looked and located the player deep in a chair in my son’s room while in the case of the latter I placed the snow shocked iPod on top of an external hard drive. Two days later it worked.

Why am I writing about this? I’m writing about this because for Christmas 2010 my wife was given her very first iPod, one of the new über-small iPod Shuffles. (Full disclosure: My Moms bought her the iPod. I spend all my money on food, gasoline, and Lipton tea.) She had been using mine while at the gym and grew to love the size and ease of the device. Along with the device she received a $50 gift card. This is there the magic happened, if you will.

Before I move forward with this story I need to give a bit of background. Like many music lovers, I have slightly addictive tendencies. My addictions have been pretty white bread and above ground: CDs, LPs, 8-Tracks at one point, drinking tea. I moved from collecting comics to collecting baseball cards before turning towards music. I do remember the moment that I realized that I was done with baseball cards in the early 90s: I was at Lefty’s in Okemos (now long gone) buying a box of baseball or possibly hockey cards. A box. This kid came in and bought one pack, sat down at the table in front of the window, and proceeded to open the pack. The joy on his face for each card made me feel shallow and hollow. I wasn’t getting any joy out of my box of cards and this kid was getting so much out of each individual card. I sold music for 11 years. I bought a LOT of music, I sold a LOT of my own music, and I got TONS and TONS of free music. There has never been a moment with music that matches the emotional punch I felt that afternoon. Honestly there is only one time with music that came close. That moment was once I set up my wife’s iTunes account and watched as she began shopping for and buying music.

In Suttons Bay, a town about 18 miles north of Traverse City, there is a candy store, an honest-to-God candy store. I have taken both my children to this store. I am well familiar with the idiom, “like a kid in a candy store.” It’s a tired idiom, but it was true watching my wife surf and shop. Pure glee, just pure glee. I hadn’t thought about it at the time, but it was her FIRST time noodling around the store, finding music and thinking about where to go next. I tried to give her some gentle tips towards finding original tracks rather than remakes and then let her loose. I think she still has money left on the card and is taking her time to use it. Which is great. I will be hard pressed to find an instance like the one I found when she began searching through the songs. I do not remember her exact words more than saying, “This is great! I should have done this years ago!”

I wonder if nowadays, with everything so at the fingertips of anyone, if the ability to relax and discover is still possible. The story of the boy with the baseball cards feels so much truer now, 17 years after the fact. Can something simple and user-directed produce feelings of joy and good cheer in a world where all you have to do is type and click to find well over 100,000 pages you could look at? What happens to the youth of today who grow up in a clickable, searchable world where anything is accessible? What happens in 17 years when these children are grown up, what will they be nostalgic for?

iTunes For the longest time in the dying days of my record stores we would wonder about what would come next. What would be the next big thing that would revolutionize or redefine the music industry. Twenty years ago it was Nirvana, brining in waves of what they called “grunge.” Ten years ago, or more like 12 years ago, there was the big boy band surge that brought floods of synthetic prepackaged music to pre-teens. What would come next? What would be the big band that would bring things back to the mainstream? All that time thinking about what was around the corner made me blind to what was right in front of my face: iTunes. It wasn’t the music that was changed in the last big push; it was the means by which the music was delivered. Will I miss the next big thing? Will there even be one?

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