iPod Turns 10 Years Old, And We Celebrate the Dematerialization of Music

ewen and donabel/CC BY 1.0

Yesterday was the 10-year anniversary of the launch of the iPod, the digital music player that would play a key role in dematerializing music forever. Think for a moment -- even if you don't own an iPod, do you listen to digital music? Do you have an MP3 player or a smart phone that acts as your music library? Odds are, you no longer cart around a Discman or Walkman to listen to while traveling or going for a walk. And you may not even own or buy CDs anymore. And for that, we have the iPod to thank.

Tech blogs around the web celebrated the big day for the iPod, and many noted how the device has changed music forever thanks to the arrival of a 5 GB device that would store up to 1,000 songs -- and even more so thanks to the software that arrived on the scene, iTunes.

Macworld writes, "While the Sony Walkman slimmed down a great deal after the earliest versions, its size was still constrained by the size of the cassette tapes that it played. The original iPod, introduced exactly a decade ago, was roughly the size of one of those tapes. Yet unlike many other MP3 players at the time, which used flash memory, and held only a handful of songs, the original iPod had 5GB of storage. Apple touted the original iPod as holding “up to 1000 CD-quality songs on its super-thin 5GB hard drive.” Apple also emphasized how quick FireWire syncing was: it let you download an entire CD into iPod in less than 10 seconds, and 1000 songs in less than 10 minutes -- 30 times faster than USB-based players."

The convenience, speed, and amount of storage were key factors in making digital music simply easy. You could store your entire library on your iPod, or switch up which albums you have at the ready for a long trip.

Macworld continues, "Who would’ve thought, 30 years ago, that I could take a trip with hundreds of live Grateful Dead concerts, every single Bob Dylan album, all of Franz Schubert’s lieder, all of Haydn’s 104 symphonies, all off Beethoven’s string quartets and piano concertos, every Bill Evans album ever released, audio versions of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and music by hundreds of other composers, artists, and performers -- all on a single device."

Indeed, who would have thought 10 years ago that iTunes and the iPod would make CDs seem so inconvenient.

The dematerialization of music is not complete. Many people still purchase CDs for their music, preferring this physical medium for storing songs in addition to digital versions, ripping the album to their computer and keeping the disc as part of a physical library. And many of us will always want to enjoy the particular sound music has when recorded on vinyl or tape. But for the most part, music is now stored and shared digitally, with the space that was once taken up by thousands of CDs (and CD cases, and the plastic the CDs were wrapped in and so on) shrunken down into the small space a hard drive occupies. Sure, there is still an environmental footprint -- it takes energy to run the servers and devices on which the music is stored and accessed. But there is not the physical item of a cassette tape or CD that can end up in a landfill.

The iPod and iTunes have helped us consider new possibilities in the consumption of "stuff" -- from music to movies to books and more. We're celebrating not only the launch of an iconic device, but the beginning of dematerialization that it brought with it.

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Tags: Electronics | Gadgets | Music

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