Opinion: “Living without an iPod?” or “The Appliance-ization of Media”

by James Bain May 04, 2007

Recently, my kick-butt Shure e4c headphones died. Immediately thereafter, my 60Gb Video iPod died. My daughter’s iBook died a few weeks ago, and my wife’s iBook died this past Monday.

I’m not sure what to do about all the chaos, except maybe to back up my MacBook and be glad I bought Extended AppleCare for it.

What I am sure about, however, is that all these devices, despite their mortality, are fairly important to both my life and lifestyle, and to my family’s life and lifestyle as well. We can and COULD (while they’re broken) live without them and did before we had them, but we are not planning on moving over to a life devoid of awesome headphones, cool media players, and totally drop-down-amazing wireless laptops any time soon.

These things in our household are no longer just gadgets, but have become appliances now, critical appliances, and as such will be replaced and repaired rather than discarded. So we’re off to Shure and Apple to repair the headphones and iPod, and off to the local business supply store to buy a new MacBook.

There never really was an option.

My television is a joke, an old post-Trinitron CRT jobby that bleeds to the right whenever anyone wearing red or anything coloured red comes onto the screen. We don’t have cable. Instead we have a set top antenna thing that our old furnace used to drown out whenever it went on, obscuring all the blurred, red figures in snow. Three channels, sort of. It’s mostly used to play our morning workout videos, or for the kids to watch DVDs with their friends. My youngest watches fuzzy cartoons on it after school. If it died tomorrow, I would not bother buying a new one. It is not a critical appliance. As I said, our TV viewing is spotty, and we are mostly used to watching DVDs on our laptops, so the big screen isn’t the draw it used to be.

We lived without a radio in the house for years. I dropped the last one, accidentally, into a bucket of soapy water while I was cleaning the kitchen and never bothered replacing it until this winter. As a former radio programmer, you’d think I’d be tied to the thing, but I had my fill and found I was getting my music from my iPod and my news from my laptop and if I wanted witty repartee and commentary, I’d make it myself. It was not a critical appliance. I bought the radio this winter because I got a gift certificate for a big box electronics store and couldn’t think of anything else to buy. And because our friends and neighbours have one.

My car is 14 years old and has manual everything. My bike is someone else’s discard that I fixed up and added some better brakes to.

I have really good boots though, Blundstones, because they’re worth it. And my sandals, Chacos, are the finest I’ve ever owned.

I don’t wear a watch, since my electronics all tell me the time, and other people still have watches and if you ask them they’ll tell you the time and maybe chat with you a bit after you ask. I’d like a Rolex, and if I ever buy a watch that’s what I’ll get but, until then, do you have the time?

I have two cordless phones, both hand-me-downs whose batteries are iffy and whose feature sets just barely include call display (I can’t do without call display). I have walked into various shops in recent months *meaning* to buy new phones and each time have just come out again without bothering. Too many choices and nothing compelling enough to make me want to take them home.

Portable media centres, laptops, and iPod have changed the way I live. All that other stuff? Whatever!

I’m sure I’m not typical, am fairly certain I’m not typical, but even though I did without an iPod for about four weeks while straightening out a credit card company’s extended warranty plan, I never thought “why bother.” I was going to get my iPod back and that was just that, no matter how long it took me. I didn’t fall down into a media-deprived depression. I did fairly well on my commutes and walks without listening to lectures and audio books for a while. But I knew that I’d restore that part of my life again and just went through the steps to get back there.

And the MacBook? Hey! It’s better than the two iBooks were, as fast as my MacBook Pro, and everyone has their own accounts on it so there’s no more file confusion, though we’re going to need a bit of a schedule for the kids and have to strongly establish that my wife has priority when she wants to use it. It was the easiest sell of all. When her laptop died, I told my wife I was going to get a MacBook, told her what model, how much, and where I was going to buy it from, and there was no discussion of whether we needed it or not, or whether we could just wait a bit or ask around in case we knew someone who had an extra we could borrow. Like the furnace that died this winter too, or the washer and drier we replaced, or the dishwasher, it was a critical appliance and when it went, it had to be replaced.

Our interaction with media, either through handheld or otherwise portable devices, is going to get more and more dense, rich, confusing, and interesting, and the forms that our interactions will be manifest through, the gadgets themselves, are going to blend, meld, converge, and expand. I’m sure that whatever I’m using in ten years won’t look too much like we have now. I might not even have a TV then. Or a car. If my soda maker breaks, I know I’ll have a hard time convincing myself, let alone my family, that it’s important enough to rush out and replace. But when our new MacBook finally dies, whenever that is, well, we’re just going to have to go right out and get a new one. These things have just become way too important to do without.


  • Frankly, I could live without all these things.  True, I use my computer for a living, but if I didn’t have it, I’d just have to adapt.  When I go on vacation, I never miss TV, or e-mail, or the interweb (okay, e-mail a little).

    I think the real issue here is how we define “need” and how that definition has evolved over the years.  It’s really very interesting and obviously differs from person to person.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on May 04, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Now I feel better that someone lives in a more desperate condition than I am. Not that James’ entertainment situation is abysmal, after all he does have nice Apple stuff.

    I subscribe to one of the leading DBS provider (Echostar’s DishNetwork) in North America, yet I hardly watch anything on a TV screen. My kids uses the tubes mostly for CN. My wife for, what else, American Idol and Desperate Housewives reruns. Me, I am content on watching movies on my MacBook Pro or the new Mac Mini attached to the LCD panel.

    So, I do sympathize with James’ pitiful analog-based family entertainment system. If “live” TV is not very crucial to get your daily fixes, so why pay exorbitant monthly fees? I hear you James.

    That is one attack vector that the Apple TV can take advantage and should promote in its advertisements. Get your “On-Demand” fix right here when that little urge hits!

    Robomac had this to say on May 04, 2007 Posts: 846
  • James, what’s really intresting about this piece ius your total acceptance of the failure of the electronica around you.

    I gotta say, I haven’t resigned myself yet, and still expect when I buy gadget it should outlive its usefulness.

    Maybe I’m just getting old. smile Like when I was young, a club was club. You’d wear your arm out clubbing mammoths and sabre tooths long before you’d hardly nick those clubs. But then they started making ‘em flimsier. In fact, by the time the club was superceded, it had to be; you couldn’t even knock out a woman with one. Of course women was much tougher back then too.

    Ah, they just don’t make stuff the way the used to.

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 06, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • Chris: Oh, you had clubs! We had rocks, and we had to share them. And we didn’t even have mammoths. Just mastodons. And we had to eat them raw, since we didn’t have fire yet. Three years is about the amount of time I expect a device to work, and am happy if it last longer. My daughter’s laptop was about six years old. My wife’s just over 3 years. I can maybe get my wife’s computer repaired. The iPod, well, I dropped it. First time it was out of its bulletproof case in months. Ironic.

    James Bain had this to say on May 06, 2007 Posts: 33
  • ROLMAO!!! “Three years is about the amount of time I expect a device to work… My wife’s just over 3 years.”

    BTW Luxury!

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 07, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • to anyone who’s confused, that should have been “ROFLMAO”

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 07, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • My wife’s COMPUTER lssted just over three years, which included a year in the Afghani desert, which was a little harsher than usual. My wife herself’s lasted over fourteen years so far. From Windows 3.1 all the way up to Vista!

    James Bain had this to say on May 07, 2007 Posts: 33
  • i’m such a tech geek that things don’t have time to break in my house before i’m off to get the newest toy!  my macbook just clicked a year old and i’m already thinking of passing it down to my step-daughter and getting one of the new LED macbook pros that have been rumored.

    muaddib420 had this to say on May 13, 2007 Posts: 3
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