Last week, we discovered that Apple has quietly killed the iPod classic.
While I shrug off the news of most tech deaths with a ‘que sera, sera’, circle-of-life-ish pragmatism, this one has unleashed a wave of nostalgia that I wasn’t quite ready for. I’ve fallen into a Spotify hole and not climbed out for three days.
You see, the 1st generation iPod coincided with the first generation of me – or rather, the first generation of adult me, clambering awkwardly out of adolescence. Scoff if you like at the idea of an iPod being a historical relic, but it’s been over a decade since I first plugged myself into one and those little white headphones are now as steeped in memories as any vinyl or mixtape for my forebears.
At a time when music suddenly becomes everything, the iPod was my ally. My pal. A surprise present from my father (via eBay) during my first term of sixth form college, my iPod had 5GB of memory and the little clicky wheel that actually turned, and it felt reassuringly hefty in my pocket. As though it was going to hold all the answers, or at least the ones to the questions ‘what is the meaning of life?’ and ‘how do I make boys like me?’
You don’t know a whole lot about boys when you spend your formative teenage years at an all-girls’ school. But you do have a lot of time on your hands to decide what you love, and what you hate, and what you should probably pretend to love if anyone is ever going to love YOU. Carrying my music collection round in my pocket, I reasoned, was digital proof that I had done my homework. If anyone ever doubted that I loved or pretended to love the right stuff, well, they could simply scroll through five painfully-curated gigabytes of taste and stand corrected.
‘I realised she was the one,’ they might later say at our wedding, ‘when I saw her ‘Friday Good Vibes’ playlist and she’d so skillfully juxtaposed The Hives against The Housemartins against a song off a BT advert.’ The police warned against using the white headphones in case they were a magnet for muggers – but if I didn’t wear the white headphones then how would anyone know I had an iPod and subsequently fall in love with me?
Of course nobody did, and so my iPod was also my partner in wallowing. The reason most of us were so enamoured with iPods (and other mid-noughties MP3 players are available of course) was because they could soundtrack your life like a film. You can claim you don’t pretend you’re in a film every time a moony, wistful track comes on while you gaze out of a train window or walk in the rain, but you are lying. Of course you do.
And nobody does moony wistfulness like a 16-year-old. With a pocketful of Bob Dylan’s back catalogue and a whole lot of train windows to gaze out of and rain to walk in, I fast became a professional moper. My favourite was Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, played as I walked home from college on the days that terrible stuff had happened. I’d been blanked by a friend in the canteen, or not invited to a house party, or my fringe had gone wavy and stuck to my forehead like damp pasta, that sort of terrible stuff.
‘Bob understands,’ I would think, kicking at dead leaves, the music so loud in my head that I was almost drunk on it. ‘I gave them my heart but they wanted my soul, and my Psychology revision cards.’
Bob was on a playlist called Rainy Days and Mondays, specifically designed for misery. It contained no Carpenters, just to be contrary, but it did have Joni Mitchell and The Libertines and some fairly mournful Badly Drawn Boy. My favourite was Bright Eyes’ First Day of My Life, a song so perfectly suited to tortured teen angst that if I hear it now, I immediately burst into tears and fancy a Malibu and coke.
But there were good times too. Before the days of the EU volume limit, my iPod became our boombox. We’d turn it up loud, rest the tinny earphones in the middle of the train table and sing along, which was massively obnoxious for the commuters on the 07:36 from Worthing to Brighton but you don’t care about that sort of thing when you’re 16.
Now, in turn, I have to listen to other 16-year-olds being obnoxious with Snapchat on trains, and the circle of life continues. They will never know quite how exciting it was to walk around with a brick of a little digital music box in your pocket, just as I don’t quite know about being given a homemade tape with an illustrated sleeve or a new 12” to play on the gramophone.
And while now, 10 years on, I have all my music on my iPhone and it’s basically almost the same, I still miss that little clicky wheel. Bob Dylan would understand.
Image: Matthew Pearce
Want to read more? Here’s our coverage of the recent Apple announcements, including everything you need to know about Apple’s ‘phablet’, the iPhone 6 Plus, and smartwatches buying guide, or if you’re sick of Apple completely, here’s our rundown of our 14 favourite dating apps, from Tinder to eHarmony.