Published: 5/15/2022 7:53:00 AM
Modified: 5/15/2022 7:51:12 AM
That little rectangle represented freedom, enhancing the teen pastime of “hanging out.”
No more lugging around a binder full of CDs. Every song you needed was on your weighty tech brick the size of a deck of cards, just a click and wheel-scroll away.
No more draining the car batteries to listen to music while hanging out in a parking lot. Instead you could drain the batteries of portable speakers.
No more sudden skips if you hit a bump while driving or goofing around. Every skip was a tiny, predictable corruption that you heard every time in the pirated digital file you never bothered redownloading.
Even if you didn’t have an iPod, which debuted in 2001 at nearly $400 and was beyond the means of most teens, there were less expensive MP3 players available. And they all opened up music to people without access to a local Sam Goody or FYE or to people without the budget or the scruples to pony up for above-board music downloads.
The technology that democratized music coincided with the rise of affordable digital cameras. Those tiny point-and-shoots were perfect for capturing hanging-out moments. And this was in a brief period before social media became ubiquitous; digital images made for more convenient personal photo albums rather than carefully curated images to reflect your definition of “living your best life.”
Like Polaroids, the grainy photos were mostly shared among friends, though a few might have made their way to MySpace profiles.
It feels weird to view my awkward adolescent years in the first decade of the new millennium so fondly. I always thought I’d look back at that time and remember the lows — bullies, unrequited crushes, cycling through different stores at the mall trying to find my style.
But now, as Y2K fashion comes roaring back, it’s been fun to think about the things that made that time of my life bearable. A lot of that had to do with music and how we shared it. Despite the emergence of digital music, CDs were still relatively popular, both for their original use and as a means to an MP3. We’d trade CDs to add to our iTunes library and iPods and create playlists personalized to our moods, then we’d burn those mixes back onto a CD as needed. Mixtapes by another name.
It took time to curate the perfect songs to fill an 80-minute disk, even longer to decide their order, then more time to write out each track and decorate the CD itself with permanent markers.
There’s something to be said for spending an evening immersed in song lyrics to make sure you got your message across, whatever that may be.
As an adult, those smaller moments of pure freedom and personal expression can be harder to come by. At an age when our lives still were under the control of our parents or teachers or coaches, MP3 players and digital cameras felt like a way of taking ownership — at least of how it sounded and how we documented it.
We decided which songs to play in what order. We decided who was in our photos and who got to see them. And we relished clicking and dragging and seeing immediate results.
The iPod — and to a degree digital cameras — have mostly been replaced in our purses and pockets, now just one more feature of an all-in-one smartphone. YouTube and Spotify make it easy to play any song at any time. Listening to an album start to finish is an active choice, not the default forced by the medium.
But there’s joy in falling back to that nostalgia, in letting yourself forget about the bad parts of a decade (I hope body glitter never becomes a thing again) and reveling in the good moments of a terribly awkward adolescence.
Liz Sauchelli can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3221.