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"We've always been a society of ownership that's been too obsessed with our stuff," Syracuse's Thompson says. "By not having to buy 10,000 records and display them and sell them in your estate sale when you die -- at least when it comes to music and video -- we're traveling a lot lighter than we used to."
Before the Nano caught fire -- figuratively, not in the literal sense that prompted a
recall of the 2005 model in Japan this week -- the Mini and the original model captured the public's imagination not with the size of their devices, but the bulk of their memory. Keep in mind, in pre-iPod world, it took a multi-disc changer roughly the size of carry-on luggage to store 1,000 songs.
We're also a bit lonelier in our travels since the iPod came around. Want a studio apartment in New York City? Go on the subway, sit down, put in your earbuds and open a magazine or a publication on your Touch. Instant isolation.
Want to tell what college students are listening to when it's not blaring out of dorm windows or houses on fraternity row? Even better, want to go back to your date's place and figure out if he or she ever heard of the Velvet Underground or will tolerate your love of
Big Trouble in Little China? Sorry, graybeard, that info is no longer available in analog.
"How do you know anymore, when you go to the apartment of a new acquaintance, whether or not you should fall in love with this person?" Thompson says. "It used to be what records or what books they have, and one of the ways we're answering that question is that people simply aren't falling in love anymore -- the whole concept of dating seems foreign to a lot of younger people."
With all that cultural cachet, how can the big white wheel just click to a halt? Maybe it doesn't have to. The iPod's bigger, costlier cohort, the iPad, is no more integrated than its predecessor, but still sold nearly 3.3 million units in its first three months. Meanwhile, old-man iPod shuffled its way to 9.4 million units sold and $1.5 billion in revenue. With the more expensive iPod Touch leading the charge and consumers still seeking media without monthly data fees, maybe the little iPod still has some left in it, even if its best years are behind it.
"It may be a little bit early to be writing its eulogy, but at the rate that technology is changing, you can't write the eulogy for a technological product soon enough," Thompson says. "No sooner have you written its eulogy than it's already gone."