iPod, Therefore I Am
Wednesday, November 16, 2005; 11:00 AM
Dylan Jones , editor of British GQ, writes about his obsession with the iPod and how it has radically transformed the way music is heard. As a compulsive album collector and music journalist, he writes about his own lifelong music addiction and explains the history of the iPod from its original conception by Steve Jobs to the landmark design of Jonathan Ive.
Jones was online at 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, Nov. 16 to discuss how the iPod has revolutionized the way we listen to music.
A transcript follows.
Jones is also the author of the New York Times best-selling book "Jim Morrrison: Dark Star."
Pittsburgh, Penn.: Mr. Jones,
Let me commend you on a fanstatic book. I recently picked up a copy on a trip to London and it proved to be an excellent manner of passing the time on the eight hour flight back (although I do take some issue with your assesment of Northern Soul but that is another discussion all together).
I recently read an interview with the guitarist from System of Down (not my particular musical taste, but an interesting read) who suggested that the release of their latest album in the vinyl format was a way of returning to the "interaction a listener had with music" by forcing the listener to have to flip the record rather than scan through it as you would a CD or MP3 which provided an interaction. You suggest that the iPod does allow the user to build what could be "the ultimate mix tape" of sorts. Do you think that the iPod has led (or returned) the listening experience to a more "interactive format" as is suggested above or do you think it has the possibility to reduce the interaction by allowing users to download individual tracks thereby bypassing a good part of the complete record and getting only the "hits"?
Dylan Jones: Of course it's now a lot easier to skip the stuff on a CD you don't want or don't like, but is it more interactive? In a sense that it's easier to create a dialogue, or at least a relationship, with the retailers, then yes.
Washington, D.C.: Do you feel that iPod will continue to maintain its dominance in the foreseeable future? Also, what kinds of new features do you imagine for it in the future?
Dylan Jones: The iPod will dominate for years to come because it has become a generic with no serious competition. Soon I would imagine that you'll be able to download and watch everything from recently released feature films to live TV.
Toronto, Ontario: Loved your book. First book since High Fidelity that really spoke to my own obsessiveness. Since getting an iPod, I've found it hard to sit through an entire DVD or read an entire novel, as if my attention span has fractured. Someone pointed out that it might be because I am listening to my music on shuffle mode. I thought about it and found that I was alway excitedly anticipating something new every three-and-a-half minutes, rather than keeping music in the background. I have since gone back to listening to whole albums now and have been able to finish books that I start (like yours!). Have you heard of this phenomenon with other users?
Dylan Jones: Yes, but only in a good way. Using the machine has encouraged me to listen to stuff I previously ignored, so actually it's made me consume more music. I am now ploughing my way through the entire back catalogue of the Kinks, for example, simpoly because I've never done it before.
Hartford, Ct.: To what degree do you think the iPod has hurt the traditional music-listening experience? Or do you think the iPod has enhanced it? Do you think bands are now geared more towards producing solid single tracks instead of well-crafted albums? Is that good or bad?
Dylan Jones: I think bands actually waste too much time producing over-long albums, so to spend a bit of time producing killer singles would actually be a good thing I think.
Fairfax, Va.: I think that every product that Apple in the past few years has just been leading up to "the next new thing."
For example, when Apple first came out with iTunes, it was a nice jukebox program that Steve Jobs encouraged us to use to "burn, baby, burn" our CDs. Little did we know that he was just waiting for us to rip our CDs so that the music was ready for our as-yet-unknown iPods.
Do you think the video iPod is leading us to the next new thing? What do you think that is?
Dylan Jones: Feature films. TV. Live streaming. Internet conenction. Total convergence, where your iPod does everything, including do your laundry and play the banjo (often at the same time).
Winchester Va.: Hello. The iPod revolution is piling even more music directly into the ear. It can't be good at volume and how many people want to play the music quietly, if it is not quiet music. Is there a safety issue with the iPod and constant use of headphones/ear pods/etc?
Dylan Jones: The iPods you have in the States are much louder than they are here because of European legislation. And we all want the louder ones.
Washington, D.C.: It sounds like you've got my obsession, too.
I've spent way too much time on my little buddy, or to be more exact, on the fat pig that is my iTunes database.
What's your favorite import rate? Did you upgrade any tracks to Apple Lossless when it became available?
You, like me, are probably terrified of having the hardrive with your iTunes crash and burn. What's your back-up plan?
I've still got a third gen -- I bought it just before the return window for the fourth gen would've kicked in, and have decided until the sixth gen is released and bug-free, I won't upgrade. What's your favorite joy in the newer models?
iTunes: the new obsession for Hornby's High Fidelity types?
Dylan Jones: I started using Apple Lossless but then ran out of space, so have reverted to the default. And I actually bought a huge back-up hard-drive, but so far haven't used it. So if I get burgled them I'm screwed.
Arlington, Va.: What would Karl Marx say about the social impact of the iPod?
Dylan Jones: It won't give the means of production to the workers but it will give them a hand in the editing process.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Dylan:
Now that Apple has released special new ipods with color and video, etc., can I purchase the older generations of iPods (just b&w for playing music only) in stores? I don't want to spend extra money for functionality that I just don't need right now. I can't find them anywhere - Apple doesn't seem to be selling them in stores or online anymore . . .
Dylan Jones: I think Apple discontinue models as new ones come into store.
Washington, D.C.: Do you think that iPods will take the place of CD's and DVD's?.
Dylan Jones: Only partially.
Dublin, Ireland: I wanted to ask Dylan about the use of iPods on overseas travel trips or holidays and how iPod usage differs from usage in the home/work environment.
Should people sit back and question whether they should leave them at home as iPods are quite insulating/isolating and may affect ones ability to interact with natives of those nations, co-travellers as well as the sounds of those foreigns locales?
Dylan Jones: I rarely listen to music on headphones but play the iPod through my Altec Lansing travel speakers. Do it in the bath. It rocks!
Fairfax, Va.: The single is back!
I love the fact that my kids think in terms of "singles' just like I did when I was their age. My daughter likes to see the top downloaded songs for the week--just like we waited for the Top 10 on the radio.
I think this introduces them to way more music. They are not afraid to spend 99 cents to buy music from a band that they would never want an entire CD's worth of music from. I find myself doing the same thing.
Of course, now we don't have those "B side" songs to discover, either.
Dylan Jones: I totally agree. Make a great single and worry about the album later.
Eastbourne, U.K: Alot of media/technology pundits are saying that 2006 will be the year the iPod will die as its function (as an MP3 player) will be taken up by cell phones. We are already seeing some 3G models from a certain Finnish company. What will be the effect of listening to music only to be interupted by cellphone calls the whole time? Will it destroy the experience?
Dylan Jones: One day soon someone will come up with the perfect iPod phone, but so far the Apple offering is medicore, as is everyone else's.
Frederick, Md.: Inquiring minds want to know: What will the iPod look like a year from now? 80GB? Thinner still? A little or a lot more video content availablity?
Dylan Jones: All of these things, and more. Bet on it.
Akita/Japan (Thoku): What will happen to the "Egg of Columbus?" - Viceversa
Who will die first?
The chicken or the egg?
iThink iPod too much to do philosophy.
So, will Apple or iPod will die toghether?
Dylan Jones: This is way too deep for me.
Washington, D.C.: One of the things I love about the iPod is it's simple, elegant design. I believe the first generation is even in London's Design Museum.
I'm concerned that over time, it will lose this quality and Apple updates, redesigns, and adds additional features. I feel like I've seen this with other products, that lose their simple/elegant nature in favor of flashiness. What is your take on this?
Dylan Jones: To be honest with you, and I don't want to sound like an apologist for Apple, but apart from the phone, I think every new generation of iPod has looked better than the one before. It's just that we expect so much more now.
Washington, D.C.: The iPod bores me. I can't read anything about the bands I download except weak websites, there are no pictures... the iPod tells less than half the story about the music I want to listen to. It's a device for dullards. My wife's sits unused.
Dylan Jones: Well there we are. If you don't like it you don't like it. I don't like cabbage.
McLean, Va.: Apple sells their older stuff in their "SALE" section on the apple online store. Some are refurbished, but others are just old inventory. Even if the prices aren't that much better, you can get the older models you might want there. I purchased a refurbed mini so that I could get the included Firewire cable a few months ago.
Dylan Jones: But I would worry about the battery life, even if they are refurnished.
Louisville, Ky: I would think the iPod would be the anti-High Fidelity. Anyone can pay a bunch of money for digital copies of music and fill up an electronic gadget and listen wherever they go.
I think the anitheros of High Fidelity felt unappreciate because they had to search for and collect rare and little appreciated vinyl albums. Those records, complete with artwork and liner notes, because not just a commodity to listen to, but a valuable work of art.
When you can just plug a computer file into a little box and go, you're missing some of the dedication Hornsby'd characters talked about. They shunned CDs for vinyl. Why would they want an iPod?
Dylan Jones: In a way you're right, however I've been using the technology because it's there. I have spent many hours, days, weeks of my life trawling through record shops in cities all over the world looking for rare records, and while I still enjoy doing that, now, especially with the internet, it's possible to get this stuff in seconds. It's incredibly exciting but also slightly irritating, like finding that your favourite (and rare) David Axelrod LP is now available on CD and is being advertised in Virgin. But what can you do? I think many of us respond by getting even more esoteric and searching out more music that people don't know. So that must be good in a way...
Washington, D.C.: Since I purchased an iPod 2 1/2 years ago, it is hard to remember the last time that I bought a CD. I have copied all my previously owned CD's into a digital format, as well as burning CD's of friends too numerous to count. However, I have found myself, like the group System of a Down, re-discovering vinyl records as a way to better commune with the music itself. I enjoy the effort it takes to play a record; that is, one has to keep the record static and dust free, line the needle up on the track and not make too much commotion as not make it skip. I have even purcased Roxio's BoomBox, which has arguably the best analog-to-digital ripping software out there, so I can take an O.K. copy of something I own on vinyl with me on my iPod.
Dylan Jones: Vinyl is still a great format, and the success of the iPod and digital music in general has obviously encouraged more people to invest in vinyl. There are still records that will only sound good on vinyl, particularly old rock and roll records from the 1950s, and a lot of punk stuff. "Complete Control" should really only ever be played on a record player. Unfortunately I don't have one in my car.
Bristow, Va.: Do you see the video iPod solidifying the use of standards (MPEG-4) for video across the internet? The regular iPod with its ability from the start to play MP3 then MPEG-4 audio (AAC) did help push MPEG-4 audio compatibility to some degree but not to the degree that most of us standards-hugging technocrats would have liked.
Dylan Jones: I think it will though. The economic value is just too seductive
Washington, D.C.: What do you forsee as the next thing like the Ipod--something that quickly becomes ubiquitous in society?
Dylan Jones: The iPhone, if they ever do it properly. Proper converged products have to be the future. But only a few will become generic, it stands to reason.
Merida, Yucatan, Mexico: Ability to share music from one iPod to another via bluetooh would be great. After a couple of listens, song would disapear and you would need to transfer again, buy online, or upload from CD.
Dylan Jones: This will happen too, whether legally or not
Fred, Gaithersburg MD: ...but cabbage is delicious!
What kind of impact do you think Creative's pursuit on trying to collect royalties for their so called patent on the menu system for portable music devices have on the iPod?
Dylan Jones: I know nothing of this. Can you explain? Very intrigued.
Los Angeles, Calif.: So, what is your philosophy on the iPod - how is it changing the way music enhances our culture?
Dylan Jones: Well, I think we know that it's totally revolutionised the way we consume music, and the way it's delievered. Is it enhancing our culture? I would say so, because it's changed everything around. In a way it's made music more disposable, but opened up so many more opportunities. At least i like to think it has...
Baltimore, Md.: Am I in the majority or the minority in thinking that Apple needs to apply better quality control standards to the iPod products? Love the concept but both the Shuffle and 40Gig players I've bought have had serious malfunctions within six months to a year of ownership. What's up with that?
Dylan Jones: You're probably in the minority but Apple will have to make sure quality control improves, as it appears to be their Achilles heel. However I think a more pressing problem is battery life, and the fact that iPods seem to be quite difficult to repair. After all, who wants to buy a new iPod every year?
Louisville, KY: What concerns do you have over Digital Rights Management (DRM)? The burn-then-rip-back method works well to remove restrictions, but seems like a complete waste of time and effort.
In light of Sony's decision to install spyware on its consumers' computers, might Apple rethink DRMing its downloads, and stop treating its customer like criminals?
Dylan Jones: A levy might be more approrpriate, or at least more easier to administer, like the industry tried with cassettes in the 1970s.
Springfield, Va.: What effect, if any, do you think the iPod will have on satellite radio providers such as XM and Sirius? iPod lets you listen to whatever you have on it, anytime you want to, but you do have to purchase the music(supposedly!) and load it, and the storage space is ultimately limited. XM and Sirius offer massive content, but you don't get to pick specific tunes and you have no control over the order. Any thoughs?
Dylan Jones: If you can access free radio then why would you want to pay for it, even if the listening device allows you to do other things? I would never dream of paying for radio. But then I'm 45.
Fred, Gaithersburg, Md.: Creative got a patent (US. 6,928,43), for "Automatic hierarchical categorization of music by metadata" for their ugly Zen music players and they claim it covers the iPod. To me the patent is stupid because drill down menus are common sense. How else are you going to do it? Anyway, I was wondering if Apple would try to fight this, or go ahead and reach a royalty agrement, or try to figure out another way to select music for their menu.
Dylan Jones: I don't know what corporate Apple policy is on this, you'd have to ask them, but I think Zen are on a hiding to nothing. Is this the only way they can generate pr?
Studio City, Calif.: While I applaud the technology of the ipod, I just wonder if anyone is concerned about what it doing to us socially? Everyone is plugged in, no one seems to be talking to each other.
Dylan Jones: The same could be said of the mobile phone, and the internet. Personally I really only use the iPod as a replacement for my music centre, or when I'm running. I still talk to people.
Washington, D.C.: FYI, Dell makes MP3 players that have the same capacity, same functionality (aside from the new video feature), yet they cost much less than Apple's offerings. Why do people seem to want to go out of their way to pay for the name? I have the Dell DJ and my fiancee has the iPod mini. Had them for the same length of time. No problems with mine at all, had to buy extra cables for hers and the hard drive just died.
Dylan Jones: Well, if enough people have your experience then Apple will lose customers, simple as that. It's human nature, but then it's also human nature to want the best designed product.
Washington, D.C.: Here's an analogy. People used to know what a real tomato tastes like. After years of breeding for shelf life and consistency, its safe to say that millions of Americans have never eaten a "real" tomato. (Now, due disclosure, I own and love my 40GB ipod and my 1GB shuffle)
Given how inferior mp3s (and aacs, and all of the other compressed formats) are to wav files (which still have all of the peaks and valleys that artists and audio engineers work so hard to produce) how long is it before the average American doesn't know what a complete, uncompressed audio signal sounds like?
Dylan Jones: Probably next Tuesday. I agree with you, and lots of other people do to, which is probably why there has been such a hike in the manufacture of vinyl.
Washington, D.C.: Do you know why iTunes only allows customers to purchase songs from their own country's iTunes store? I love that I can browse other countries' selections, but when will I be able to purchase? It seems strange, since I can buy CDs from foreign countries via the web.
Dylan Jones: It's not only strange it's downright annoying, but not nearly annoying as the paltry library of songs on iTunes.
washingtonpost.com: Thank you Dylan for joining us for a Live Online discussion today, do you have any closing thoughts?
Dylan Jones: I'm slightly worried that readers might think I'm a spokesperson for Apple, rather than a writer, but I must say I enjoyed all the comments and questions today. I think Apple have opened a can of worms with the iPod and I can see that the next few years are going to be fascinating in terms of new software, new hardware, convergence, and the way in which the music industry copes with it all.
And thank you to those of you who bought my book.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.