Happy birthday, iPod!

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/24/2011 - 08:07

The iPod is ten years old today. The iPod was the brainchild of Steve Jobs. There were plenty of other MP3 music players at the time; most of them were much less expensive and smaller than the iPod, but the iPod was easy to use, both from the interface of the iPod itself, but key to the music player's success was the way the iPod synced with iTunes on your computer--a layer of complexity was completely eliminated, and that made all the difference.

The emergence of the iPod was also the death of the music store, but it was neither Jobs nor Apple that was the death of that anachronism, it was the inevitable march of history, or as Schumpeter calls it, "creative destruction." Ancient Greeks decried written language as the ruination of memorization. In the Middle Ages, the printing press was seen by some as a loss of control over knowledge. Time and technology move on. As we speak, tablet-based devices like the iPad are completing the creative destruction of most paper-based materials, especially magazines and newspapers. I think there will always be a place for some paper-based books, but really, paying less than ten bucks for the latest best seller in ebook format is much better than chopping down trees, making energy-intensive paper, and then engaging in the energy-intensive process of printing and hauling millions of tons of those books around. That's also true of music--music used to require enormous amounts of energy to deliver to the buyer, because music was heavy; it had weight. Today, we buy music as a stream of weightless photons.

What else has changed? In the old days, ten years ago, when music was still heavy, you needed a well-designed road system for the trucks and cars that hauled music around. Today, you need a well-designed digital road system to haul music, books, magazines, movies, TV, health care, business services, and hundreds of other emerging services. Is your community building those digital roads?

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