So here’s an article from yesterday in The Globe and Mail: An iPod can’t rock the house that starts out talking about how the iPod revolutionized “our” (1) lives except that it turns out that the iPod had nothing to do with it. Noting declining sales of stereo components, the author then goes on the make all sorts of generalizations about why it is that it’s o difficult to buy CD players anymore (and why sales of component stereo systems are declining). Except they’re not really. What’s hot in audio right now is the home theater concept. And so your local consumer electronics warehouse is going to have a gazillion different 5.1 systems to choose from, and the DVD player (which also plays CDs) is cheaper than the CD player which does not play DVDs. The author knows this. What fool would pay for a CD player when the DVD player, which is already hooked up to the stereo, also plays CDs? Don’t even get me started about the article’s coverage of audiophiles.
Now, the author is right that perhaps the experience of just sitting and paying attention to music is on decline, though it had been for a long time before iPod appeared. And yet, if someone wanted to do that today, his or her budget home system would probably sound better, more expansive, deeper, and more lush than a comparably-priced system at any prior moment in the history of hi-fi. The difference is that people who didn’t have hi-fi systems now sometimes want home theaters. The other difference is advances in speaker design since the 1970s thaks to readily-available computer modelling programs. People who couldn’t have huge speakers for a variety of reasons can now have good-sounding small speakers.
And so, once again, I find ephochal reflections on the iPod’s historical significance more than a bit overstated. It’s an artifact, not a cause. Though I’m sure the coverage is good for Apple’s stock price.