I hate Apple for killing the iPod, as they took down the whole MP3 players industry with it. Sure, the rise and popularity of streaming services have played a hand too. But irrespective, my music listening habits have changed tremendously since. So is the iPod's death a cause or an effect of my dwindling love for MP3s? Like most things post-internet, it is both.
Steve announced the product with a brilliant marketing tagline of 1000 songs in your pocket. Unfortunately or fortunately, it also meant only 1000 songs in your pocket. With my first internship stipend, I purchased an iPod shuffle and fell in love with the device. I carefully selected a few songs I could listen to on a loop. Or day-in-day-out. I built my playlists for the different moods. I subconsciously memorised each of those few songs — the first tune, or the few beats, were enough for me to start crooning along.
My love for owning music goes way back to the pre-iPod days, though. At first, it was with my Sony walkman and the few cassettes that I built a liking for. Even when the computers came, I created a collection of music that I was incredibly proud of. For my friends, I was the guy to visit when they needed a song, new or old. Or when they needed to find the one song which they could remember only vaguely. We sang those songs for hours. In our rooms, in classrooms, in corridors and on trains. We built a liking for the few songs as we made listening to them a habit, a hobby.
That is not the case anymore.
With streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, I now have all the songs I need in my pocket. And yet the experience has slowly grown hollow. These days, I put on the music more as background static than the immersed escapade that it earlier was. My mood doesn't decide the music I listen to. Some curator on Spotify does so. This thought in a recent Guardian article resonated with me.
Streaming makes the listening experience much more passive. (…) This idea that you can just turn on a faucet, and out comes music. It’s something that leaves everyone to take it for granted.
Passive consumption is not suitable for any form of art — music is an art of the most extraordinary form. Listening to music was a hobby once. People listened to music as an involved activity -- not a medium, to put them in a focused mood while they do something else. Or to mute the background noise. You don't say, "I am reading a book", when you skim through the pages only to fall asleep, do you?
I am reminded of my changed habits whenever I see my daughter enjoy her music. She has a set of some 50 songs which she listens to every day. She plays the same songs even on streaming services. She selectively adds a song to the list and does so only after she has listened to it enough. Just like the pre-internet me, she embraces her music – the first 2 seconds of a song are enough for her to start singing along aloud. Not just the lyrics but even every tune.
Sure, I could still fall back to my music-listening style of yesteryears with my smartphone. But the "smartness" of the device already hinders any semblance of focus that the one-purpose iPod allowed. I also understand that there are a lot of positives to streaming services. The discovery of new music and artist is one big plus. But what is a discovery worth if I don't feel the emotion behind it?