questions about evolution

Don’t judge me…


I’m considering buying this:

I got my first ever CD player as a gift on my thirteenth birthday. I received two CDs (one of them was Green Day’s Nimrod) and listened to them non-stop on a family holiday to Greece.

That CD Player has lasted me TEN YEARS. During that time I have owned THREE IPODS. It hasn’t always been easy, of course. The flap that covers the batteries came off a long time ago so they tend to fall out and get lost in handbags. For the last few years it’s made a weird whirring skipping sound when it plays songs. Oh yeah, and then there’s the constant incredulity you are faced with whenever you have to tell people that you still use a Walkman. Seriously, certain people find it as mind-boggling a lifestyle choice as telling the time with a sundial.


And it’s not like I go around proselytising about my brand loyalty! It’s a simple case of running into someone and having to pause your song in order to have a chat. We’ve all been there with some device or another. But God forbid someone broadcast their tastes and preferences in the day of the hipster, especially if those tastes are even an inch outside of the mainstream. My affection for the Walkman stems not from some misguided sense of what’s “cool” or a desperate notion that I need the stuff I own to prove my individuality (or represent it where my personality can’t). It’s simple reliability! Sometimes I can’t be bothered to recharge my iPod, or lose the cable to connect it to a computer. Sometimes I want to listen to music that exists outside of the 4 GBs that the iPod can store!

[I will take one moment to get pretentious and point out that the word “Walkman” is WAY nicer-sounding and catchier than “iPod”. Walkman sounds dignified and professional and has gentle, grown-up vowels. iPod still sounds desperately aspirational, clinging to an idea of “futuristic” that’s still years off in 2013, let alone in the year of its birth 2001. It conjures up goofy sci-fi films where people take food in pill form. Whimsical mumbling time over.]

I like my CD player and I like my iPod, and I especially like how easy it is to live with both gadgets side by side, using each one to supplement the other. It’s not like that with every part of 20th/21st century life! For example, I can’t use my typewriter in the evenings because it’s too loud. But as of today I’m really concerned about how much longer my little Walkman has left. A new fault has emerged: it plays the first twenty or so seconds of the first song and then completely loses track of it’s place. The word “disc” starts flashing on the inch-long screen, which means that it doesn’t think there’s a disc inside it at all. I would compare it to a sort of gadget senility, but there’s no way that’s not a horrifically insensitive thing to write no matter how sentimentally attached I might be to this particular lump of plastic.

It may solve itself, but it may not. This might be the end, and I have to face it by making the proper arrangements. Hence the link and picture at the top of this post. Why not

The primary argument against, say, getting a cassette player is the fact that I already own literally hundreds of CDs. Of course I save them to my hard drive and put them on my iPod (and I have some songs that are on my hard drive but I’ve not yet got around to copying them onto disc) but consider that I can only have 1000 or so songs on the iPod at any one time (obviously this is 100 CDs with ten tracks… or it would be if I only filled my iPod with albums, in their entirety. I have EPs, a few audiobooks and some random songs from mixes, samplers and just tracks that I randomly came across on blogs and stuff and downloaded just because they were there. My brother will feel vindicated, in the unlikely event that he ever reads this, in knowing that these randomly encountered songs include Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble. Whatever). If my favourite albums mostly exist in the default mode of CDs (I mostly buy CDs, sometimes vinyl) then a CD player probably makes the most sense in terms of accessing my music immediately. Like if my iPod battery runs out unexpectedly.

On the other hand, the worst thing about the CD player is stopping to change CDs in the middle of the street. My fellow Walkfolk know that this is always going to look awkward. As nice as it is to limit your own access to music sometimes (iPods can give me “itchy fingers” and make me unwilling to listen to an album all the way through in the right order… even if I love that album) the player is big enough and the CDs are even bigger. I tend to pack between 3 and 6 CDs with me when I’m listening to the walkman, and I carry them in 2 to 3 CD cases. It’s not a perfect system. CD cases are about as sturdy as an origami crane, especially when you stuff them into a tote bag along with your wallet, a comb, two paperbacks, some keys and a bottle of contact lens fluid. A friend of mine once smashed the cover of my copy of  Californication by leaning on it with her elbow. Don’t get me started on the bit at the centre of a CD case – the raised bit that slots into the omphalos of the disc. Those things are the fucking devil.

So a tape player would require me to copy my music to tapes. This is the best argument both for and against switching to tape. There’s no way that I’m going to copy every CD I have onto tape if only because of the expense. I would need well over a hundred tapes. If the iPod is supposed to solidify a new notion of music as a non-physical entity that you channel rather than carry around, I can’t really say that this redefinition has stuck, just yet, for me. My bank of CDs is the foundation of my music collection, not my hard drive. The thing is, laptops break and I’ve had to add all my music to itunes afresh every time I take it back to the Apple Store for fixin’. I’m only human and no matter how much I love certain albums it’s easy to forget what I have until the moment I decide I want to listen to it. Ah, but what if that album isn’t currently on the iPod? Well, I’ll just have to wait until next time I sit down with my laptop, my hard drive, my iPod cable, the iPod and possibly the CDs containing the music. And hope that once I’ve assembled all that junk into a little nerd workshop, that I remember how many TLC albums I actually own (I think I have two).

So there are reasons that I’m shackled to CDs, but it’s that same inconvenience that lures me towards tape. I hope that nothing I’ve written so far makes you doubt that I love my iPod. I currently have an iPod touch and it’s great. I just think it needs supplementing. It’s like the Jack Lemmon to my Walkman’s Walter Matthau. Sometimes the iPod encourages laziness and flicking. I really hope I’m not the only one who’s had trouble concentrating on a whole album, all the way through, in one go, just because it’s on my iPod and the option to switch songs is there? It’s not a problem with the CD player when that element of choice is gone, and by extension tapes would further eliminate that opportunity! I wouldn’t even be able to skip individual songs!

Is discipline really something that people seek out in their choice of music player? I don’t know if that seems dumb. I don’t like people who say that CDs or MP3s are “soulless” mediums, that’s like saying “real women have curves”, it’s ignoring the validity of other possibilities to make people happy. I mean, why would you want to ignore that? Why let nostalgia blind you rather than making you happy? Why limit yourself to understanding physical substance as the parallel to emotional substance? I don’t understand this way of thinking. But putting together playlists on tape does seem different to making playlists on iTunes (where is the On The Go playlist option on the iPod Touch by the way? I miss it!) and making mix CDs (for myself, rather than as a gift for a friend) just seems like a waste of a disc. Is a tape more like a collage than a list? I don’t know. Maybe all this is about nothing more than experimentation. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But of course, it has to be asked: if I already own both a Walkman and an iPod, would the tapes be important artifacts or just tchotchkes?

I want to finish by saying that I wrote most of this post yesterday, and since then I’ve had better luck with the CD player. I’ve listened to several Yacht and Say Anything songs and everything went fine, so it might be on the road to recovery. However, I thought this was still worth posting because I have a whole other entry coming up about technology and media that touches on similar topics. If we’re in kind of an uncertain era, culturally speaking, then the best approach is probably to just admit to ourselves that it’s all very interesting and ask lots of questions.

To close, here are some extracts from amazon reviews of CD players that I might buy:

“We were shocked to find that there are only a couple of models still on the market. This one is a good choice though. No problems at all and she says she is tempted to order another to put away for future use in case they stop making them, which surely won’t be too far in the future.”

“This is a sleek and smart CD player with all you need to do the business.”

“bought a spare one because I hope this does not disappear from the market. CDs are an excellent medium for good music and should not be allowed to be fully replaced by MP3 players. The convenience of a walkman makes it valuable alongside a good quality hi-fi.”

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2 Responses to questions about evolution

  1. Pingback: Random Repeat « Cygnus X-1

  2. Pingback: CHRELI | blog » Random Repeat

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