I bought my first walkman-like music player when I was 16 years old. It was bigger than a Sony Walkman – in fact, clunky may be the best description – but it let me immerse myself in my music. The Stranglers, The Jam, and more travelled with me wherever I went. Indeed, I remember walking in the rain for several hours listening to Marillion's latest album, so I could truly get the peace and quiet to appreciate it. And, when I had saved up enough money, I finally bought a real Walkman with its full glory of Japanese technology miniaturization. Life was good.
As technology evolved, I followed eagerly, buying a smattering of MP3 players before bowing to the inevitable and purchasing an early iPod. The music player continued to get smaller, while also allowing more and more music to be carried. I went from the single cassette to the 1,000 songs promised by the iPod, to a potentially infinite number if I ever choose to stream instead of own my music (unlikely since I already own a large library). And while the capacity to store music increased, the form factor shrunk, until one day it disappeared inside my smartphone. Now, life was great.
Or was it? Over the years, I’ve come to understand that the smartphone is not the best portable music player solution for a couple of key reasons. While the phone can hold quite a lot of music, this must also compete with everything else we want to install on our smartphones: apps, photos, and (especially) system updates, all claim their due space meaning that sometimes we have to compromise on the music. Of course, that usually doesn’t matter, as music not stored on our smartphones is just one click away in the cloud, which is pretty accessible, unless you are on a plane or trying to limit your data roaming while abroad.
But the greatest flaw is not a capacity issue, but rather the very fact that the smartphone is (almost) always connected. That means notifications still pop up visually and audibly, taking us out of the music and back into reality a little too quickly. In other words, the smartphone has demoted music to more of a background experience – elevator music for our daily lives – that we are too quick to abandon when those beeps and other interruptions try to pull us away. Perhaps that matters less to an audience who listens to individual tracks, rather than immersing themselves in an early Genesis “opera,” but it does matter to me.
And so, I’m taking a big step backwards. I’ve bought a new Sony Walkman – a digital one, rather than a cassette player – that I spotted while at IFA. And thanks to an SD Card slot, I truly can carry all of my music with me wherever I am, close my eyes, and truly appreciate the effort and genius of the artist I choose. With no beeps, or other noises to break the mood. Life is, once again, great.