More iPods for Everyone Everywhere

It is amazing to witness the success and ubiquity of iPods. It has become so widespread (with Apple Computer reporting to have sold over 40 million of them) that the term “iPod” has become a generic one. The iPod is merely one among the hundreds of digital music players on the marketplace, but people often and mistakenly use this term to describe all music players in general; some would call the Sony MP3 Walkman, or the Sandisk Sansa, an “iPod,” but each is a music player in its own right. The iPod is an Apple product. Why, then, would many confuse this? For example, no one today would identify all hybrid cars as the Toyota Prius. Of course, there are the Ford Escape Hybrid, the Honda Accord Hybrid, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, etc. There is a distinction among these products. But the success of the Apple iPod has made many people believe that “iPod” is synonymous with “music player.” Within five years, the iPod has become a social and cultural icon. It has become a symbol for America’s rising consumerism and desire for more widgets and for products that can serve more than merely one function.

Apple Computer (traditionally a computer hardware and software company) delved into the media world of music in October 2001 with the release of the iPod—a player with a 5 GB capacity purchasable for $400. This was big news in the technology world, especially with product competitors offering only a fraction of the storage space that the iPod offered at the time. Within five years, this has evolved into a 10 GB player for $400 in 2002, to a 30 GB player for $400 in 2003, to a 60 GB player for $600 in 2004, to a 60 GB player for $400 in 2005. It is clear that with each successive product launch, the capacity of the players becomes ever more enormous. On Tuesday, September 12, 2006, Apple Computer again announced an entirely revamped iPod product line up. Now, avid buyers can get an 80 GB iPod for merely $350, making it “affordable and accessible to even more people,” according to Apple. In its five-year iPod history, Apple has claimed 75% of the portable digital music player market and 80% market share of legal music downloads through its complementary online iTunes Store. Obviously, the demand is there. Consumers are asking for more and more, and whereas the iPod of 2001 featured a music player, the iPod of 2006 includes a video player, a photo viewer, an address book, a clock, a stopwatch, a calendar, a number of games, in addition to the now all-too-simple music player. And as a result, America has become a place that abounds with the now iconic white iPod earphones, and where every kid on the block owns an iPod (or two).

The September 12 event, titled “It’s Showtime,” was another attempt by Apple to satisfy consumers’ insatiable desire for more, be it more “new” features or more all-in-one gadgetry. This desire—or demand, as it is considered in the consumer market—for Apple products is steadily increasing. The company’s habit of announcing “all-new” products (a phrase used by Apple during the event was “completely remastered”) makes it difficult for the general consumer population to resist. The clever marketing by Apple coupled with the charisma of Steve Jobs (Apple’s CEO who gave Tuesday’s presentation) put the iPod-maker in a prime position in the market. This is not to say, however, that the secret behind Apple’s success lies solely in good advertising, where the masses are easily swayed into buying iPods, and where its popularity and hype spur even more buying, and more popularity and hype as a result. Rather, Apple products (specifically the iPod) are often considered sleekly designed, solidly built, and easy to use, all at competitive prices.

The “completely remastered” iPod product line up (though more evolutionary than revolutionary) now includes a video iPod with a 60% brighter screen, 75% more battery life for movie playback, and all-new earphones. The new iPod nano is now made of aluminum and is available in five colors (as opposed to the former white and black), has a 40% brighter screen, a 24-hour per charge battery life, and all-new earphones. The new iPod shuffle is also made of aluminum, is less than half the size of its predecessor to about the size of a large postage stamp and has a built-in clip. In today’s world where the iPod complements the cell phone when people leave the house to work, to school, to the store, etc., the ability to squeeze more functionality into a single device is very much welcomed. (There is even speculation among analysts that an Apple cell phone/iPod hybrid is in development. Then, the traditional cell phone will be unnecessary as well.) One might consider such an all-in-one device infeasible or even excessive. But as long as the demand is present in the American culture—a demand for “all-new,” “better,” and “more features”—there will always be a business for Apple and other companies like it.

The Apple iPod, once considered a luxury for Mac users only, is now available relatively cheaply to the entire scope of computer users. As such, it has become a commodity, where last year’s model would simply not do and the new one (announced on Tuesday) must be bought as soon as possible for the “all-new” features. Whether one in fact uses these new features or not is another issue, but the mere idea of keeping up with the times drives us all as consumers.

At the end of Tuesday’s “It’s Showtime” presentation, and after discussing Apple’s ultimate end-to-end media entertainment solution, Steve Jobs lists that “Apple is in your den” (with its media software including iTunes), “Apple is in your living room,” (with its new movie service), “Apple is in your car” (with 70% of 2007 model cars offering iPod connectivity), and that “Apple is in your pocket” (with the iPod). There is something to be said about Apple’s success with the iPod. When the iPod was first introduced, it was undoubtedly considered exotic, unique, cool and hip. Today, even with the iPod’s pervasiveness and universal appeal, Americans are not finding it dull or too mundane, rather the want for iPods remains, and more and more people are tied down to their multitudes of electronic devices, whether talking on a cell phone or listening to a music player or using their computers. With more “all-new” features available than ever before, Americans are finding the urge to throw down the old and buy the all-new; people are finding it increasingly difficult to live without it.

It's About Time

In this day and age, there is no doubt that most Americans have heard the adage that time is money at least once in their lifetime. While the mathematical proof of this equation is arguable, it seems that it is understood, especially among the student, businessman, scientist, and caretaker populations, that an extra wasted day would surely mean wasted productivity, wherein lies purpose and salary.

It is not surprising, therefore, to see that most people wear a watch—or at the very least, can claim to own one. It has become commonplace, finding its place beside the keys, cell phone, wallet, and eyeglasses, and it is among those things that one needs to have whenever one leaves the house. It becomes disconcerting when the watch is forgotten at home or lost; it is even more upsetting when the battery of the watch dies midday. The sense of time is lost, and, as a result, the sense of place is lost. In today’s growing culture of more and more and faster and faster, scheduling and knowing exactly when to be where is crucial.

Of course, having a clock is important, but the ability to watch time pass portably is probably more effective and practical. While a clock is a signifier of time (and sometimes, beauty), a pocket watch or a wristwatch is a signifier of wealth and a sort of time that is instantly accessible. At the end of the day, it is this fact that matters.

Whenever a person looks at his or her watch, it is almost certain that he or she is thinking about something other than the task at hand or about someplace he or she will have to be later. Sometimes, in particular circumstances, such as during a board meeting or in a class lecture, looking at the watch is a clear sign of boredom, or, at the very least, impatience—the impatience for the meeting or class to end and go on to do supposedly more important things. Spotting a stranger looking at his watch as he walks down the street suggests that he is important, productive, and is heading off to take care of some important business. Observing a seemingly bored woman who is constantly checking the time on her watch suggests that she is waiting (impatiently, even) for something more important and more productive than what she is doing presently, which is actually nothing. Today, the mere act of looking at one’s watch would signify that he or she is busy and aims to be productive. People are no longer occupied with the now; rather, they are pre-occupied with the future and the later. There is a growing sense of impatience among Americans today, notably among the younger generation.

Everybody today, it seems, is always rushing to get from place to place. People always seem to be running to his or her next meeting, always rushing to make one important phone call, always hurrying to make the necessary business deal. Being late for class, for work, or for an appointment, for example, is just unacceptable. In a society when taking it easy and catching one’s breath is now unnatural, people are always running. They often find that they look down on their watches and realize that they are still running out of time. We, in America, have gotten to a point in time when 24 hours in a day is simply not enough. The ironic thing, however, is that while people sleep less to do more work, they ultimately lose rest and lose productivity as a result of it.

Me, in Between Here and Here

As I wake up every morning, usually around six-thirty no matter what the occasion, I do not typically think to myself, “Today will be a good day,” or “Today, I’m going to do something productive.” Often times, I just do it. Others, I simply stick to my day-to-day routines without a fuss. Still, I would consider myself an optimist.

There are, I think, two reasons for this. Firstly, I think it is healthy being optimistic; it is better for the body and mind. Secondly, in a world where many people claim to be depressed and go about saying life sucks, I want to be different. It seems people want to feel like a part of a group, while, at the same time, be unique. Therefore, to be unique in a world of wanting to belong is to have a distinctive combination of groups. And while my combinations of groups (which I might claim to be unique) may be shared with this person here or that person there, it is the desire to be unique, and the means of doing so, that makes up the individual.

I would label myself a Chinese-American, though both my parents came originally from Taiwan. I would consider myself primarily American, though my family traces back to both Taiwan and China. Today, I belong to that group which is distracted and torn between the “old” culture and the newer, “American” one. On one hand, I am fortunate enough to have two parents that understand English to a degree they can take care of themselves for the most part and can take care of paying the bills without a problem; but on the other hand, I am cursed. Mandarin Chinese has become secondary to English in my home, partly because we now are so used to English, and partly because the Chinese abilities of my sister and me are embarrassingly limited. When I was younger, my dad had encouraged me and my younger sister (by only two years) to speak and practice our Chinese at home. Today, it is mixed. I speak with my sister and Chinese-speaking friends almost exclusively in English. Even my mother speaks with me in English now. Of falling into the American way of things—but more really, of falling out of the Chinese style—I hate it.

Inherent in American culture—a culture of mixed races and of people from lands far and wide—is a sense of, for the most part, a dual-culture. Here, in America, there is always a problem of whether or not to assimilate or to diverge from the immediate culture, of adopting and adapting the new in place of the traditional and old. And within this culture, we typically have two choices that speak more to our individual upbringing and, therefore, our individual preferences: urban culture versus rural culture, American cars versus foreign cars, Windows versus Mac OS, or contacts versus eyeglasses, etc. I, myself, belong to group of the urban culture of New York City, of the Apple culture of Mac, and of those that prefer Japanese cars, namely Toyota. With these choices, I am proud of my sense of belonging—especially belonging to the minority—which, I would like to think, further adds to my own enrichment and uniqueness. A few months ago, my family purchased a new Toyota SUV, the Highlander. (With my suggestion, we chose green; green was uncommon in the streets, and silver, though the color looks stunning, was becoming far too ordinary.) And since the day we drove our new car home, I became more aware of the cars on the street. Now, when I’m walking down the sidewalk, I pay attention to the “brands” of each car I pass. Sometimes, I tell my friends if we are walking together. They don’t care, but I find it interesting. I guess it is my way of becoming in tune with at least one aspect of American industry. I have become so adept at identifying cars that I can point them out merely by looking at their lit taillights. To me, it is like a game; to me, I have reached sort of Level Two.

And just like a player in a game, I am optimistic. I am optimistic that I may not only learn about the cultures and cults around me but also absorb them enough to balance my own sense of belonging and of uniqueness.