But now it’s archaic technology: A look back at ten years of “internet all the time”

This May marks a small yet significant personal milestone: Before I left on my Trans-Oregon Tour on this day in 2010,* I purchased an iPod Touch. Yeah, it’s just a piece of electronics, a very outdated one now. But it marked a big change in my life. From that point on, I would have access to the internet all the time.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. The iPod Touch I owned is basically an iPhone sans phone. It was stripped down: no microphone, no camera, no data network access. It needs actual wi-fi to get on the internet. I couldn’t use it the same way I used a smartphone, I had to be near somewhere that had wireless internet. But as we know, there’s plenty of places that have it, and if you aren’t near a spot that has it, you probably will be soon. This changed how I did things: before, I’d have to be at a computer to look something up on the internet or communicate via email. Now, I can do this possibly anywhere, with something that can fit in my pocket.

*****

I am the opposite of “early adapter” when it comes to electronics, except for one moment in my life: when I was nine, and my dad bought me an Apple IIc for Christmas. This was state of the art computing technology in 1984, and I did a lot with that computer for many a year. It lasted to my high school years, when I’d use it for the “word processor” to type up reports and the like. But after that? Nothing.

I did not get on the information superhighway until 2000, when a friend convinced me to get a hotmail account. This was the era where we could get away with checking email once or twice a week. So there was no need for me to own a computer. Over the next decade, I’d use the computer at the library, at work, and at places like the Independent Publishing Resource Center to do my online work.

Cellphones? I held out for as long as I could, using the house phone to make calls, relying on a janky message service when I traveled. As I traveled over the years, the amount of payphones dramatically dwindled, so I capitulated to the mobile phone in 2005, when my friend Dylan gifted me an unused one.** But since I barely talked on a regular phone, the cell wasn’t that much of an intrusion in my life. Heck, I refused to use text messaging for a few years.

*****

How I came upon the iPod Touch was circuitous and indirect: I needed a way to listen to music on the road. Up until 2010, the way I’d listen to music while traveling was with a Discman and a book of CDs holding anywhere from 12 to 48 CDs.*** Over the years I went through many a portable compact disc player. The best ones lasted maybe two to three years, and as the price and build quality got cheaper and cheaper, I’d maybe get a half-year out of one. It was getting frustrating, to say the least, especially if that CD player breaks on Day One of a two-month bike tour.

Then someone left behind an old basic iPod at the hostel. I waited the standard waiting period, and when it went unclaimed, I claimed it.**** I was going out with April at the time, and she had an old iPod/iPhone plug and a laptop that I could connect to. I tested the iPod by loading one album onto it. It worked! So I spent the better part of a day setting up an iTunes account and ripping music from my CD collection. So then I went to sync the iPod, and…nothing.

I went to the local Apple store***** for them to check it. They surmised that the hard drive was busted (yeah, it was that old) and it would cost as much as a new one to repair. I went home, dejected. I was frustrated that I had put all this time and effort into the iPod for naught. I still had no way to listen to music, and a ten-day tour across Oregon was looming.

So I went down to Fred Meyer to check out new iPods. They had the regular ones, and they weren’t that expensive. But for a little more, I could get a new iPod Touch, which would hold all the music I wanted, and have internet access. I wavered a bit, conflicted between saving money with the basic version or having something that could not just play music but also be a useful tool while on the tour. It didn’t take much for the Touch to win out.

Overlook east of Santiam Pass
Photos from the Trans-Oregon Tour, May/June 2010

And man, the iPod Touch came in handier than I thought. I managed to write a few posts on the blog, check the weather, and most importantly, easily contact Warmshowers hosts to set up places to stay. I used the heck out of the iPod for the next few years, until I got my first smartphone at the end of 2012. Now I also had data, so I didn’t need to be near wi-fi to use the internet. Plus, the smartphone had an adequate camera (the iPod Touch had none) so I could instantly post photos online if I wanted.

The iPod Touch fell by the wayside. About a year after the smartphone, Apple left my model in the dust, none of the updates worked anymore. I couldn’t download any new apps, and some of the installed apps stopped working or didn’t work as well. I still kept this humble device, since it still has a pretty full music library that doesn’t need to connect to the internet. And it uses an old school headphone jack, so no need for wireless earbuds and I can easily plug it into an external speaker.

But ten years later? I still have that li’l outdated iPod Touch. The music library still works, and some of the apps are clunky but usable. (I can’t check email on it anymore, possibly due to security upgrades.) Every once in awhile, I’ll fire up Safari, look at the bookmarked websites, and get nostalgic. It’s a snapshot of my life from 2010 to 2013. I’ll see fellow bike tour blogs of people I ran into on the road, though most of those blogs have been dead since Obama’s first term.

*****

I think back at how this now outdated device marked a turning point in my life, for better and for worse. After ten years of having pocket access to the world wide web, it’s hard to imagine my life without a mobile device. This is supremely useful, and also a major timesuck. Like many folks, I probably use my smartphone way too much, and do not feel good about it. (And no, this is not a time for those of you who don’t use a smartphone or cellphone to get all smug about it in the comments.)

It’s the same with a lot of technology: We may have lived before this new technology was introduced, but once it has been introduced, we can’t imagine going back to life before it. Technology gives us convenience at an expense. It simplifies while it complicates.

I think that’s a big reason why I actively try to do things that are old-fashioned, or use things that are considered outdated. I love three speed bicycles, writing actual letters, shaving with an old safety razor, listening to terrestrial radio, and now shooting with film cameras. I guess it’s some sort of compensation. And I do it with the advantage of living in the modern world, being able to pick and choose. Is this better? Am I good?

*****

When the world isn’t in pandemic mode, the little ten year old iPod Touch lives permanently in my bag, there for me when I need it. I don’t need it much anymore, but when I’m at a cafe and want to listen to something different than what they’re playing (or I want to concentrate), I pull it out and plug in the headphones. While it’s not great at being an Internet Device circa 2020, it is still supremely good at one thing: Playing music. That was the main reason why I bought it. It gave me a lot of other uses over the years, but now just playing music is good enough for me. I’ll keep using it for that until it works no more.******

*This was right before I became an “all-the-time” blogger, so the reports of the Trans Oregon Tour on the blog are scattershot. I did eventually gather all my thoughts into a zine that I never got around to publish. Like that Central Oregon Cascades Tour, maybe now is time to revisit it and publish it on the blog?

**It’s also worth noting that 2005 was when folks started to live without landlines in their houses. Sure, I could get a regular ol’ phone installed if I was willing to pay for the full phone bill…

***Initially the 48 CD book was because I used it while driving around, when space isn’t at a premium. Of course, this takes up a lot of room in a bag. When I moved to the Bay Area, I whittled down my “daily carry” book to just 24, which is still a lot. I finally moved on to the “only 12” book. For those of you who didn’t use Discmans when traveling, yeah, this seems like a lot. But if one wanted selection and was going to be away for many days, that’s how you had to do things.

****One of the big benefits of working at the hostel was the Lost and Found. I got some good stuff out of it, like two pairs of RayBan sunglasses, and my first digital camera.

*****OK, technically it’s The Mac Store, which is what we had before an Apple store opened in Portland.

******Norm, you still out there?

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