I Pod therefore I am

2009-06-23 00:00

THIS is the title of a great book by Dylan Jones that describes his intensely personal relationship with a little metal capsule containing the collected soundtrack to his life.

Like Jones, I love my iPod. Its sexy, sleek black design; the cute white pods that plug snugly into your ears; the touch-sensitive wheel. It’s a masterpiece of postmodern design: compact, stylish, seductive and essentially essential.

What is cool about the iPod is that it fits thousands of songs into its tiny casing and what’s even better is that you don’t have to import entire CDs on to your iPod song library. You can banish Smackwater Jack from Tapestry. You need never again be subjected to Crocodile Rock and the monumentally awful Mocking Bird is finally gone from Sweet Baby James. That, right there my friends, is progress.

Since we bought iPods, our house is resonant with music we haven’t listened to for years. This comes courtesy of a couple of other wonderful inventions — the iPod docking station and iPod shuffle. What a fantastic device the iPod docking station is. Reminiscent of the Apollo space programme, this is a product of one of technology’s finest hours, and for my money it kicks the conventional hi-fi into a cocked hat. You simply dock your iPod into the station and press shuffle. It then plays a random selection from every piece of music you’ve ever collected. It creates a playlist that can take you on a thrilling journey through decades of memories. Assuming, of course, you’re as old as I am.

The amazing thing about the technologies of today is the easy way they collapse time and space, bringing our history right back into our present. Facebook gets us in touch with long-forgotten school friends. Google makes it possible to search for lost loves and rekindle old flames. People on different continents reconnect via e-mail. Frequent SMSs ensure that friends are with us when we’re having lunch, walking around the mall, or in church. We are constantly connected — plugged into each others’ lives. But what I love about the iPod is that among all this social connectivity it allows you to be perfectly alone, cut off, blissfully isolated.

The new technologies store our memories in a pristine time capsule where they don’t deteriorate like old books or old LPs. I’m not sure how I feel about that. There is something comforting about my stack of old CDs with their odd cracked cases. Some of them were bought to replace scratched LPs in dog-eared covers that had gone to too many parties — my Dark Side of the Moon, Blood on the Tracks and Catch Bull at Four spring to mind. There is something very special about discovering the past in a battered box stored right at the top of a cupboard. You haul it down and spend a few happy hours poring over Springbok Hits Volume 6 or leafing through leached-out photographs of holidays in Margate. It’s like finding Aladdin’s lamp, brush off the dust and the memories appear — a little faded, a little frayed and hazy around the edges, but that’s how memories should be.

It’s strange to imagine that one day all our memories might be electronic — photos, movies, letters — and the iPod or something like it may very well be the custodian of someone’s life’s memories.

Thinking about that I am acutely aware that I am my iPod. More and more I am becoming symbiotically attached to it. As I walk around the mall (yes, I am one of those cyborgs with the little white wires coming from my ears), it plays the soundtrack to what would be a movie if there were a camera recording my life. I can sing along to the backing tracks for my gigs and the world morphs into a vague mediated pageant passing me by. My iPod cuts out all the unpleasant sounds of trolleys grating, kids crying and people chattering away on their cellphones. What’s not to like about that?

To close I just want to tell you what my neighbour George said the other day: “You know you’re getting old when you go to Musica and you can buy three CDs for R100 and they’re all great.”

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