I remember the day, some seven or eight years ago, when my father shoved a shiny new magazine add under our noses and excitedly proclaimed that within a few years every kid in the US would be carrying that object. I took one look at the ad and balked, squawking vociferously about the integrity of cd collections, the hassle of finding music storage space on computers, and most importantly the inevitable death of the common mixtape or cd.
I think he was slightly surprised, having expecting excitement rather than hostility, and when release time came he was our household’s first proud owner of an iPod.
Fast forward a number of years, and I’m sitting in the Crow’s Nest with my parents who came to take me to breakfast. I thought it was nice that they wanted to see me (recentely returned from Senegal), so I sat down ready to hear about their latest escapades and disagreements only to find that by the time I’d pulled out my knitting they had both disappeared. My mother had her shiny new laptop, which was attached to her iPhone and camera. My father had a book, and was staring at it with enough intensity that I was afraid he might start to drool as he mumbled half-formed words under the sound of the crowd.
Indignant proclamations of personally falling second to a slew of household technology weren’t working, and I was starting to wonder if they could hear me at all. What next…proclaim a heroin addiction? Say I’m dropping out of school? Leave them sitting there? To make things better, I’m vaguely acquainted with someone at the table behind us. I prod my mother again, and her response is to throw the frog (which had so far been hiding in a tote bag) across the table and into my face with a loud “grok!”.
Just when I’m getting desperate, my father gives a noisy yawn and a stretch, dropping the book. “Oh good!”, I’m thinking. “He’s going to talk to me!”
“Hey, Anne? Do you have that little computer with you?” he asks my mother. There I am, knitting away, surrounded by electronic parents. I’m afraid they might actually be robots.
I did eventually trade in my values for an iPod. After years of slugging around a giant cd case in an ancient car with a broken tapedeck, it just made sense. I still had my share of adventures, trying to connect music to the speakers using an FM transmitter that seemed to require constant contact with human flesh. The evolution of iMacs (giraffe-era; and yes we had a chunky strawberry iMac that sometimes TRAVELED WITH US) made music storage easier, and despite the downsides even I couldn’t deny the attraction of having everything right there in front of me.
It’s come in handy, taking up a fraction of the space my old system required. It traveled across Senegal with me, providing endless hours of entertainment while jolting across the dusty countryside, packed in like sardines in a brine of sweat*.
When I think about the overwhelming number of interests, objects, and Things To Be Done that clutter my personal existence, I wouldn’t give up my iPod. I’m still resistant to change, preferring my spinning wheel over video games and open windows to air conditioning; on the subject of the iPhone I can only stutter and babble about the unseemly quantities of time I already pour into the internet**; an unsettling echo to my earlier rejection of small and portable mp3 players.
I could throw out names of modern things I dislike for hours along with reasons for why the old systems “were better”. I could probably even write a manifesto. Nothing will convince me that consumer culture is better than the things I can make with my hands, eyes, ears, and nose. The fastest way to lose an art form is to give in to the ready-made.
Everything else aside? Don’t ask me what happened to my once extensive collection of mixtapes***.
* You learn to sleep on strangers shoulders and to be slept on, and to smile and nodd when someone shoves their writhing, sticky toddler into your lap while they rearrange. It’s not actually half as unpleasant as it sounds.
** I wish I could go back to my original telephone. Greenish screen with black letters, boring ringtones, no useless extra functions.
*** Add to the list of things I’ve lost through technological dependence a once dependable and extensive ability to spell, and decent math skills. That’s not to mention the need for agile memory.