The gift of music in a little plastic box

I inherited an iPod earlier this week.

Actually, I was given one by a friend who is visiting from out of town. Inherit would not be the correct term here, as she is still very much alive, or was the last time I spoke to her about an hour ago. You never know in today's world, however, so I won't make assumptions.

My new iPod is an older, bulkier version of the design that revolutionized the way we collect and listen to music. It has enough space to hold nearly 10,000 songs. I don't know if I listen to 10,000 songs in a 5-year period, but now I have that many sitting in my pocket, housed in a plastic case roughly half the width of a cigarette pack.

Strange, this.

I am tagged with being a music dork by many of my readers, but I have to say that I don't spend a lot of time thinking about music these days. It's difficult to do so as the music business is crashing into a pile of its own greed and short-sighted thinking. Music scenes come and go so quickly now that there's no time to place a signifier on what epoch in which we live.

In the '90s, we experienced the grunge era in mainstream rock and the gangsta rap era in hip-hop. There are plenty of bands and rappers who today embody these genres, but no one would ever place such a tag on a large group of them and label them a "scene." This is because the barriers mainstream music companies built to funnel certain sounds to record stores have been demolished by the little plastic box sitting in my pocket. It's pointless to group, say, 30 rock bands into a subcategory when the Internet has made it simple for tens of thousands of groups to make their music available online for a nominal fee, or in many cases for free. Suddenly, these 30 bands disappear into the violent ocean of sound living inside our Macbook Pros.

You can't, as an evil corporation, be a music dictator when you can't readily commodify something, package it and sell it to an eager demographic who is given no other choice but to purchase your product at one of your retail business partner's box stores.

Those days are over. And that's probably a good thing.

I resisted iPods early on, as I am one of those fearful, lice-eating cavemen from "Quest for Fire" when it comes to technology.

Now, however, I can't imagine buying a CD again for the rest of my life. It just seems kinda dumb to do so.

If the record companies are dying a digital death, so be it. Out of destruction comes innovation, etc. If only newspapers would've realized this, say, 20 years before they did.

The interesting thing about my relationship with the iPod is how I have used them to not only expand my musical horizons but learn things about my friends who have allowed me to borrow theirs for a trip, or, in the above case, given me one outright.

The one my friend gave me this week was loaded with her music. We have similar, though not exact, tastes, so I was happy about this. It wasn't a deal-breaker. If she was a Top-40-hits slave, I might have erased its memory and filled it with my own music.

I say this because I find value in learning about someone through their choices in art, music and books. I like the idea of this information being easily available on the menus of tiny machines sold to us by Apple or Kindle or xBox.

I envision a future when we go to bars or designated meet-new-friends-or-mates places and plug our little plastic pads into the bar or table. All of our interests, ranging from music to books to the websites we visit on a daily basis, are quickly read by the person we've met at the meet-new-friends-or-mates place.

Instead of engaging the tiring, irony-laden banter you see on shows like "How I Met Your Mother," "Big Bang Theory" or "Portlandia," we would sift quickly through the menus of our respective tiny plastic pads and decide right then and there if we are compatible. If not, unplug and move on to the next option to try again.

The iPod I inherited contains music I have not explored but am looking forward to learning about in the coming weeks. This particular friend was a riot girl in the '90s and favors girl-power bands such as Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy and others of that ilk. I am vaguely familiar with this music but feel that I would benefit from educating myself on this sound.

This would accomplish two equally worthy goals. I would expand my horizons musically and also learn something about my friend. Because iPods are like fingerprints — no two are exactly the same.

I'm looking forward to a day when iPods and iPads are as cheap as business cards. We will hand them out to whomever we meet, allowing this person to quickly gauge whether they want to spend time with us.

I'm only 60-percent kidding when I say this.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-760-3888 or email

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