I owned one of the first hard-drive based mp3 players, the Archos Jukebox 6000. It has a full 6 gigabyte hard drive and the most hideous blue bumpers on the four corners. The firmware it was released with played the same “random” order of your songs every time. After this player kicked the bucket (horrible clicking sound for a hard drive is never a good call, especially after dropping it from a moving bike in the park), I got a Creative Jukebox Zen, which was one of the first 20 gigabyte hard drive players at the time. This one was much improved, no longer requiring that playlists be made using text files and then uploaded like the Archos had. No, this player I would take with me to my sets as a college radio DJ, where I would plunder the promo discs looking for brand new music that none of my friends had ever heard before. By the end of school, I had only filled up about 14 gigs worth (which may sound like a lot, but when you factor in the huge amount of file sharing that happens on most dorm networks, it really isn’t). The vast majority of the music I listened to was still purchased as a CD and then ripped to my player. I didn’t have some major ethical stance against not working with the solid media type because of the inherent unfairness to the artist, but I did get a lot of that out of my system in high school. By the time I had upgraded to the 20 gig player, I wasn’t sure if I actually needed that much space.
I’m still weighing that one over. Recently, I uncovered the player from the spot it was occupying in my garage. All of the music is still there, and it still holds a charge quite nicely. When I plugged in my full headphones (instead of the ubiquitous white earbuds I typically use), I was taken back to a time and place without children or a mortgage. I went jogging for the first time in a year with the player and the over-large headphones. It was like no time had passed at all.
The pretensions about owning the right music player or having the right set of earphones slid right off me as I kept listening to Clarity by Jimmy Eat World, an album that I became infatuated with while playing a Crash Bandicoot version of Mario Kart for the original playstation.
And I was just trying to figure out if it was the music or the player that was letting me have such a string response to the experience. After narrowing down all of the variables, I believe that my brick of a music player holds more importance to me than I had ever given it credit for. The songs on it don’t matter nearly as much in some ways because I have listened to them on other players as well. It is the act of holding something that feels terrible in my hand with a cord that is way to long for jogging wrapped around it that let’s me see who I was then and how far I have come.
So, as I scroll through the hierarchical menu system and choose my next songs from the person I was a few years ago, I can’t help but think that the things we are pushing aside are the ones that tie us to who we are.
In the rush to get a new iPad, are we going to brush aside the machines that knew us better? In the hurry to throw away any single-use item, are we going to lose our digital cameras and voice recorders? Progress is good, and it should be always forward, but there comes a time when we need to be able to pull out all of our old gadgets and ideas and look at them for when we were in these moments.
If our digital past is littered with electronic artifacts, I think it is my job to go and pick them up align the way. Every once in a great while, they should be dusted off and given another chance to impress us with the anecdote or the understanding of what we have learned and what we still have yet to even guess is coming.