We are musicians, you and I.
From the moment of our very first breath, we have been playing our song. Some of us start out a bit out of tune, but eventually find our pitch. Others will command attention from the first downbeat. We will create hooks, rhymes, and catchy tunelets that others cannot get out of their heads as they ride the subway or mow the lawn. Nothing will keep us from playing our music.
In the 16th – 19th centuries, our English ancestors spent much of their lives singing. The English Broadside Ballads, as they are now known, were inexpensive, widely distributed sheets, telling tales of love, sex, politics and tragedy. They were meant to be sung, and people did just that. They sang at work, at the pub, while wandering around in public, and at home with their families. Music was everywhere; it was an integral part of life, an expression of what was on people’s minds and hearts as they went about their lives.
Hundreds of years have passed, and we are still making our music. These days we walk around with wires dangling from our ears, mumbling along with a tune inside our own private space. Once upon a time we wandered through life with a song in our hearts, now it is in our Ni Cad-fueled, cloud-connected, sleek-smooth personal digital devices. Technology has bonded with our souls in a perverse, primal way….
My first MP3 player was a Rio S10 that I found on the Internet for $50. It held around 40 songs, awkwardly downloaded using software that only an engineer could embrace. It sported an oddly shaped, ugly blue plastic case, and was powered by a single AA battery that needed to be replaced about once a month. It was an aesthetic train wreck, but it functioned well enough to power my workouts at the gym and accompany my inner song wherever I went.
Before the Rio there was, of course, my Walkman. It was a marvelous little device, little bigger than the cassette tape from which it extracted my music. A mechanical phenom, it somehow managed to maintain a steady sound while I jogged or otherwise sought to perturb it. Unlike the Rio, it devoured batteries. And then there was the library – shoe boxes full of cassette tapes - suitors vying for a chance to mate with the player and bring forth life from their intertwined metal and plastic parts.
Steve Jobs would have nothing to do with either of these; he was famous for his insistence on removing the superfluous to achieve simplicity, believing this to be the “ultimate sophistication.” He hated the flimsy little trays that slid out of computers to solicit a CD, and delayed the product launch of the iMac while a slot CD drive could be designed in. When Panasonic introduced the first CD drive capable of recording data, it was available only in tray form. Steve’s iMac was suddenly behind the technology curve. Burning music to CD’s became all the rage, and Apple’s iMac was woefully inadequate.
This was certainly not the only instance where Job’s arrogance led him into trouble. A semi-fruitarian who also admired the Beatles, he easily settled on the company name “Apple” with his co-founder, Steve Wozniak. In the swirling power of his reality distortion field, the name was totally his to possess. In 1978, Apple (the computer company) was sued by Apple (the Beatle’s record business) for trademark infringement. Jobs settled by paying 80,000 USD and signing an agreement that the Beatles would not make computers, and Apple Computer would stay out of the music business. John and Paul, et al. honored their part of the deal.
Under Jobs, Apple computer was not a company to sit back and lick its wounds. Spurned once by the computer-savvy music lovers of the world, they soon began courting them with renewed vigor. In so doing, they also launched a long-running legal battle with the other Apple.
The iPod became synonymous with personal music. When it first came out, the New York Times editorialized that it wouldn’t have much of an impact, based in part on the devices (Rio, Walkman, …) that had come and gone without making much noise. The iPod was only compatible with Apple computers (about 5% of the total at the time), and songs which we were getting for free from Napster would cost 99 cents.
More than 10 billion downloads later, it appears to have been a pretty good idea. The iPod transformed Apple and completely revolutionized the music industry. It is everything that no one knew they wanted. Our culture was changed forever; if you really want to get to know someone, be they a new friend or a presidential candidate, the most fertile question to ask is “What’s on your iPod?”.
Steve Jobs believed that creating great stuff, in whatever your field may be, is a way of showing love for all those who have done the same for you. The people who grow your food, make your clothes, manufacture your car - all the people whose efforts produce the products that you depend on and hopefully even enjoy – have demonstrated their love for you in a tangible way. It is a worldview as unique as Jobs himself, and one worth embracing as we seek meaning for our lives.
To paraphrase Howard Thurman, we shouldn’t waste time worrying about what the world needs most, but instead figure out what we love, because what the world needs most is more people doing what they love. It was Lucille Ball who said that if you first figure out what you love about yourself, everything else falls into line.
Demonstrating our love for others, knowing what we love about ourselves, and doing what we love; these form the middle eight of our song, the part that takes us away from the verse and chorus and makes our music come alive.
And as for our song, we will play on until the very end. Perhaps we will finish with a booming power chord that reverberates for eternity. Maybe the last notes will die away with a peaceful, slow fade-out leading into the long silence…
In November of 2010, less than a year before Steve Job’s death, after decades of legal sparring, the two Apples finally came to terms. The Apple music catalog moved onto iTunes, heralded by a video of the Beatles iconic 1964 Washington Coliseum concert. The long battle between the purveyors of technology and music was finally ended.
Regardless of whether you follow the Beatles or the Bible, the message from John and Paul is the same. In life, no matter where you go, what you do, or who you know, all you need is love.
It’s on my iPod.
Author Profile - Paul W. Smith - leader, educator, technologist, writer - has a lifelong interest in the countless ways that technology changes the course of our journey through life. In addition to being a regular
contributor to LoveMyTool, he maintains the website Technology for the Journey and occasionally writes for Blogcritics. Paul has over 40 years of experience in research and advanced development for companies ranging from small startups to industry leaders. His other passion is teaching - he is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.