It is a special birthday in the technology world: the iPod is 10 years old. This fact alone makes me feel more than a little old and outdated. I have never been one to be on the cusp of technology. When I was very little, I had 101 Dalmatians and The Rescuers on record and I would beg my parents to play them for me as I sat next to speakers bigger than I was. It was not until late in grade school that I got a Walkman tape player, through which I listened to pretty much any tape I could get my hands on. In high school I upgraded to a CD player and that CD player kept me in the best music through high school and college. I didn’t get an iPod until just a few years ago, but it seems like just yesterday. By today’s technology standards my four year old iPod is ancient, as we have all witnessed how speed of technology has gotten faster and faster. For the past 10 years, the iPod has pushed the media markets into high gear.
First released on October 23, 2001, there have been more than 300 million iPods sold, and it has transformed how we consume media. In the years just before the release of the iPod, online music sharing was severely threatening the music industry. In March of 2001, Tony Fadell got in touch with several electronics companies to try and pitch his jukebox-style MP3 player, a piece of technology that took the MP3s off the computer and put them in a transportable form for the first time. Apple jumped on board. In just seven months, the team at Apple was ready to release the first generation iPod, though it only sold a few hundred thousand in the first year. However, in 2003 with the launch of the Apple iTunes music store, sales of iPods skyrocketed. While over those 10 years the iPod has taken on many different forms and sizes, it continues to dominate the music player industry, accounting for 78% of the digital auto player market.
This innovation of the iPod means I no longer have to carry case after case of CDs or tapes for music. I can fill up my iPod with a huge variety of Christian music and very easily carry it around with me wherever I go with my youth. Gone are the days when I would have to worry about what radio station we would play in the car on long trips, because I have a wealth of great music constantly through my iPod, enough that if we need to switch to a different type of music or sound we can do so with ease. Grab a couple of small speakers, and suddenly the music is transportable. Back in the day, if you wanted music out at camp, you had to bring your guitar. This is problematic to those of us who play the drums. Now your song leader just needs the smallest of iPods and speakers to lead the group in song.
Because the iPod is just a revolutionary product, it is something almost every teen has. Even some of my grade school students have one. Unlike years ago, where teens could feign ignorance or even hide the CDs and tapes they were listening to, if you can wrench the iPod from a teenager’s hand, you can have access to their entire music library and see quickly and easily what kinds of music they listen to most often. A quick look at their “25 Most Played” playlist and suddenly you know exactly what kinds of bands, singers, and genres of music they spend their time with. That’s powerful information for youth leaders and parents alike. It gives you a chance to make specific suggestions for Christian music that is going to fall in line with what you know they listen to. It can give you an open door to discuss songs and song lyrics that are not “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable,” as Paul tells the Philippians we should be taking into our minds.
With every generation of iPod that is released, the tiny machines do more: video, movies, apps, photos. Eighteen generations of iPods have yet to see any real competition in the market. Now, Apple is deliberately preparing for a slow in the sale of iPods as new technology takes its place. The iPhone, iPad, smart phones, and tablet computers now provide everything the iPod does and more. This next evolution in technology will take the place of what we use now as new and better technology renders what came before obsolete.
It strikes me that the next great innovation in technology that will revolutionize the way we interact with media may very well be something we haven’t even seen yet. When Steve Jobs and Apple began working on the iPod it was seen as a niche product for a niche market. It was something never before seen, and something I could not have fathomed while listening to my records as a child. In the same way, the technology our young people use now will develop and change over time and what will be created and developed will be something we have not seen to deal with problems we may not even yet be facing. The thought is both overwhelming and exciting all at the same time.
So Happy Birthday, iPod. Even though it makes me feel old, I am grateful for the technology that allows me to bring God-pleasing media to the youth I work with and for the open door you give me to see into their lives. I can only hope I’m ready for whatever great technology comes next.