The ipod is a wonderful invention, especially for those of us old enough to remember when the music collection of the typical adolescent consisted of just a few scratchy but beloved vinyl records.
If someone had told me back then that one day I’d be able to carry an entire record collection of many thousands of songs in a slim black gadget weighing just a few ounces, and could effortlessly dial up almost any tune I liked at any time I liked and listen to it through the privacy of earbuds, I’d have been flabbergasted and entranced in equal measure.
But sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. Having total control of song selection, being able to hear whatever you choose in the order you wish, can be like having too many chocolates at once.
It used to be that on an album there was a certain ratio of boring ho-hum songs to the socko ones. Using a record player meant you usually had to wait through the bad ones to get to the good ones. This taught a certain amount of patience. Plus, it was often the case that if you listened to the less immediately likable songs enough times, you would come to appreciate qualities in them that were not immediately apparent on the first few listenings. This taught you patience as well, and to keep an open mind.
If you were like me, you sometimes circumvented the whole operation by standing poised at the record player at the end of the song, placing the needle on your favorite over and over till that particular band (or your hand) wore out. Maybe this taught patience, as well, although of a different sort.
With an ipod, every song we select to load is one we like. There are no bummers; every selection is a keeper, or we would not have selected it and kept it.
We can play our favorites over and over almost effortlessly with the mere press of a finger, until they are our favorites no more. We can play our tunes in alphabetical order. We can create playlist after personalized playlist that mix and match the tunes in the ways we deem most agreeable: some for the sad times, some for the happy; some for the contemplative moments, some for the active.
But after a while the steady diet of exactly what we like, exactly what we want, begins to pall. We get—impatient.
Too much richness and predictability can be boring. Human beings like to mix it up. But, wonder of wonders, the ipod folks have anticipated this problem and invented the shuffle, which adds some randomness to the proceedings.
We like to say, “surprise me.” And the ipod does, sometimes giving us old favorites we’d practically forgotten about and never would have chosen for ourselves. And then everything old is new again.