Remember Video Killed the Radio Star?
The 1979 British new wave hit by The Buggles was fittingly the first video aired on MTV in 1981.
It’s about a singer whose career is cut short by television.
“In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone to far,
“Video killed the radio star,
“Video killed the radio star…”
It’s a doo-wop about obsolescence, not just the music video bludgeoning the radio music industry, but eight-track and cassette tapes killing vinyl records, CDs murdering tapes, MP3s cutting deep into CD sales, and new technology overriding the old.
Twenty years after MTV and Radio Star, we have iPod taking out the MP3.
Why should we care which of the two digital technologies wins?
Because things aren’t as simple as the Betamax versus VHS playoffs of the mid-1980s; unlike our record players and our boom boxes, iPods are designed to die.
Introduced by Apple in 2001, the handheld iPod has become the world’s top-selling digital media player.
Its popularity stems from its ease of use and the simple selling point that it puts “1,000 songs in your pocket,” although six years later it’s more like 15,000 songs and 25,000 images.
It exists in several variations, all of them much cheaper than the original.
There is the iPod, which holds 7,500 songs (30GB) for $249 or 20,000 songs (80GB) for $349.
The iPod shuffle, at half the size (“half an ounce”) of the 4-GB, 1,000-song iPod mini, holds about 240 songs (1GB) and sells for $79, with your choice of five colours — silver, gold, blue, pink and green
The iPod nano, which holds 500 songs (2 GB), goes for $149, 1,000 songs (4 GB) for $199, 2,000 songs (8 GB) for $249, and also comes in a variety of colours. There is also the iPhone and iPhoto.
IPod’s unique digital format (AAC) is not the same as MP3, which remains the most popular file format, though it is suffering significant shrinkage because of iPod.
Unlike MP3 players that use flash memory, iPod has a hard drive like a computer, which lets you to store more music, but which also makes the player cost more.
IPod’s AAC file format is shackled with digital rights management encoding, which means it is not compatible with other players.
So, when your iPod breaks your songs are garbage — you’ll either have to download them again in another format or purchase a new iPod to hear them.
Most online music stores sell files in Windows Media Audio, which is not compatible with the iPod.
However, Apple’s online music store iTunes supplies the digitally protected AAC MP3s compatible with your iPod.
But critics assert that the average iPod dies after about a year.
The lithium-ion battery runs out and the iPod is rendered practically useless.
You’ll recharging more often, but still player will fade by the end of the day.
So, buy a new battery, right!
Apple deliberately seals the battery inside the iPod and replacement batteries cost $65 and take several weeks for delivery.
IPod encourages the mortality of its products with the rapid-fire introduction of new and improved products.
It’s a familiar campaign of obsolescence that has made suckers out of all of us at one time or another.
But this time it seems particularly sinister because we just paid as much for this handheld music player as we did a few years ago for our entire CD stereo system, plus speakers.
To add to the cost, those tiny little iPods that we are being encouraged to toss away without a thought are filled with lead, mercury and flame retardant, toxic substances that will eventually seep from our landfills into our groundwater.
There are cheaper alternatives to iPod, but many them are mimicking the throwaway features of the Apple product as much as they are its technical features.
What are our options?
We can reject the handheld digital revolution and continue to use our Discmen, if they’re still called that, until something digital shows up with more staying power.
We can hold out to see if the Blu-ray Disc conquers the DVD before buying a new movie player.
We can resist for a few more years buying Microsoft’s Vista operating system, which is rumoured to be a memory pig and is aimed at making our PCs obsolete.
We can lobby our governments not to digitalize broadcast signals, which will make all of our televisions obsolete.
We can resist all technological “advancements” and risk being left behind with our Victrola and our VIC-20.
Or, instead of being a complete Luddite or a total slave to fashion, we can just wait awhile to see if companies like Apple are offering up one-hit-wonders or if they actually have something worth investing in.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.