Saturday, September 13, 2014

The death of the iPod

I mean that in two senses.  I dropped my iPod Classic on the concrete floor of McCarran Airport in Las Vegas a few weeks ago.  Broke the hard drive.  Not repairable.  It felt like a part of me had died, plus then I had to listen to insufferable modern country music while waiting for the plane.  That felt like all of me was dying...

I replaced it immediately, because I had a long plane ride to Japan ahead of me, followed by six weeks there, and then a long plane ride back.  I needed an iPod, and since I love music, and own a great deal of it, it had to be another Classic.  I debated switching to a Nano or a Touch, but to be honest I don't give a fuck about album art - it just wastes space - and so the big screen and the swipe function are just useless, and a bad trade for more disc space.  I want the disc space.

I'm glad I bought the machine when I did, now, because I learn that Apple has discontinued the Classic.

This is typical Apple behavior, and why I hate being a Mac user in exact equal proportion to how much I love being a Mac user.  I'm only a Mac user in the first place by accident - at the moment I finally had enough money to buy my own computer, and was starting grad school so I needed one, it was still much easier to do Japanese in an English environment on a Mac than on a Windows machine, so I bought a Mac.  (This was back in the Kotoeri days.)  Then about three months later Windows figured it out.  If I'd waited three months I probably would have gone the cheaper route... 

My Apple love/hate is intimately connected to the big part Japan has played in my life.  I was born in 1969:  my formative experiences with cars and electronics were all in the '80s, when American cars sucked, and Japanese cars didn't.  My parents had American cars up to about 1985, and they were all lemons, every single one of them.  Always breaking down, not to mention guzzling gas and taking up far too much space.  I learned to drive on one of these boats.  My parents finally got sick of it, like so many Americans did in that period, and started buying Japanese cars.  Reliable, well-designed, compact, economical. 

In other words, my formative experience with any machine that mattered was this:  America could only make shit.  Japan made good stuff.  The Walkman?  A godsend.  Then I went to Japan in the late '80s, and got used to the idea that pretty much everything could be reliable, economical, and attractively-designed.  Not that you can't find cheap disposable shit in Japan, too, but even the cheap disposable shit does what it's supposed to do. 

The only exception, as far as I'm concerned, has been Apple.  Apple stuff is well made, does what it's supposed to do, is reliable, and is economical when you take the long run into consideration (certainly not cheap up front).  And it's attractive.  Which should be standard, but usually isn't.  That's why I've stayed a Mac user all these years.  Mac stuff feels to me like Japanese quality and design sense.  Computer use (not tech obsession) is a huge part of my life, and it's nice to have that kind of peace in that area.  Every time I have to use a Windows machine it's like I'm back in the worst, most American situation:  it may be cheaper, but it's chaotic, jury-rigged, and buggy.  Like our economy, our infrastructure, our politics.  We pay for cheap in all sorts of ways.

That's what I like about Apple.  What I hate is just as persuasive, though.  I hate the attitude - the hipster arrogance, the young snottiness, the design-journal aesthetic absolutism.  In 1999 when I bought my first computer Apple had convinced us all that color was the answer, that the whole world was blooming, and that boring white was the enemy.  Then a couple of years later color was gauche, pure white was the thing, and let's just forget we ever thought any different.  Still have a grape iMac?  What's wrong with you?  And don't get me started on those "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" commercials - those alone were almost enough to make me switch to Windows.

Part of the absolutism is their policy of making old stuff obsolete.  As a Mac user I've had to learn to live with the sneers of young Mac store tech personnel - if your laptop is more than four years old you might be told that "we don't work on vintage machines."  Like, crawl off and die, you cheap old fart. 

The iPod Classic is now an example of this.  A great product, great enough to become an important part of your life.  Indispensable.  I could wish it were a little sturdier against concrete airport floors, but still, all things considered, it's pretty reliable.  But it doesn't fit with their vision of what we should be doing, so fuck it.  Apple invented the portable mp3 player, but now they don't want us to own our music anymore.  That's passé.  They want us to cloudstream it.

Never mind the fact that if I was using a cloud stream philosophy, I'd be SOL for the six weeks I'm in Japan.  And never mind the fact that when I'm not moving, I still like CDs, still like to have physical copies of my albums, with the liner notes and art and stuff.  I'm certainly not the only one.

In short, the Classic fits my life the way I want to live it.  Apple has decided, however, that they're no longer interested in people who live their lives the way I live mine.  They're only interested in people who live their lives the way Apple wants them to live them.  That's the thing that bugs me about Apple.

They're kind of totalitarian.  I guess we knew that back in 1984, though.