Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Steve Jobs transformed our commutes with the Apple iPod

October 6, 2011 - 02:30 PM
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Walk on any sidewalk and into any Metro station during rush hour, and you'll see the iconic appearance of  Apple pioneer Steve Jobs' iPod and earbuds. Let's remember this transit contribution in light of his recently announced death at the age of 56.

Can you imagine a world without the sight? The white, sleek, distinctive iPod and those earbuds were a revolution in their own right, and despite a history of different music devices in prior years, none had captured the aspirational desires of consumers in quite so visceral a way. Ipods kickstarted a casual-listening tradition that is now intrinsically tied to commuting and walking in countless ways. Ipods and other accommodations are everywhere, from the systems that let you plug an Ipod into your car's audio system to the Metro maps that WMATA lets you download onto the devices. Every Friday I feature a musical track here at On Foot, and I didn't have to think twice when considering what image should accompany the weekly traffic jam — iPod earbuds, of course.

You can make the case that the iPod made our rides and walks less social, enclosed us in a sonic world that permitted no small talk, but I will say this — music illuminated and expanded our lives with a soundtrack in a way that never happened in any prior decade. The iPod was portable and connected our digital music libraries with our hands and ears in a personal way. It was fast. It was marvelous. Novelist Jennifer Egan, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From The Goon Squad, alluded to the power of such omnipresent music in her morning jogs in New York when she appeared at the National Book Festival recently. The music immediately made all these past decades and moments and memories profoundly present, resurrected in the songs as she traveled through her city.

"What's so special about the iPod here?" Jobs asked a crowd as the product was launched. "It's ultra-portable."

How fitting, in a way, that we approach the tenth anniversary of the iPod. The first version went on sale November 10, 2001, and was announced only weeks earlier, on October 23. Here, watch Steve Jobs explain why Apple pursued the field of portable music 10 years ago and eloquently discuss the field, the way music truly does involve our everyday life in dynamic ways, and illustrate the wisdom that led this product to transform the world's transit. Apple has since sold hundreds of millions. Rest in peace, Steve.

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