Interview: Dylan Jones, Author of ‘iPod, Therefore I Am’
November 7, 2005 · Print This Article
By Devlin Smith, Contributing Editor
Its sales are on target to top 10 million by the end of this quarter, according to UBS Investment Research. Its ad campaign has become legend. In Bono’s words, it’s the sexiest thing since the electric guitar. And now, the iPod stars in its own love story, Dylan Jones’s "iPod, Therefore I Am."
Jones, editor-in-chief of British GQ, is a lifelong music fanatic and more recent iPod convert. While in the process of uploading his entire music collection onto the digital jukebox, creating play lists and editing some of the less-essential pieces from his favorite albums, someone brought up the idea of writing a book about the process, so he did.
"iPod, Therefore I Am" hit bookshelves in October via Bloomsbury. To coincide with the book’s release, Interference.com spoke with Jones via telephone at his London office, talking about the book, music and falling in love with a piece of machinery.
Where did you get the idea to create "iPod, Therefore I Am"?
My wife about two Christmases ago asked me if I wanted an iPod. I kind of prevaricated and said I probably don’t need one, even though I’ve been obsessed with music forever. In the end I said, "Why not?" It would very churlish of me to say no; it would be lovely to have an iPod anyway." She bought me this iPod, it sat in its box and I eventually, after a couple of weeks, opened the box because I thought this was going to take a good couple of hours to understand how to use. It took me about five minutes to understand how to use and I just became completely smitten and I basically spent the next six months uploading my entire record, CD, tape, mini-disc collection onto this machine and became completely enthralled by the process and loved the fact that not only was I editing everything that I’d ever consumed musically but also it made me think about what I was like when I bought various records, what the music industry was like when I bought various records, and just this whole thing kind of [spun] off into all these different avenues. Then, ironically, my brother-in-law was around one day and said, "You must be writing a book about this whole thing," and, of course, I wasn’t but a light bulb went off and I thought what I great idea and I just began splurging and writing reams and reams and reams of paper and then I sent it to an agent who loved it. It was kind of simple, really.
Reading the book it seems almost like a love story about two things that you’re very passionate about. The first thing is music. When do you feel like you really fell in love with music?
When most people do, when they’re a teenager, basically. When you enter your teens and you find you feel alienated, you feel different, you feel alone, music becomes kind of a placebo, kind of your confessor.
Going back through the book and remembering all the different times and the different songs, were you at all nervous about revealing all these maybe painful things from your teenage years, awkward moments or anything like that?
Not especially because it was all contextualized, it was all about the music. There are lots of different tangents in there about childhood, about work, about sex and things but it’s all contextualized, it’s all about this kind of personal library and it’s a way for me to tell my story through music.
The other thing that you seem to have a great passion for through this book is Apple. When did you first become a user and a fan of Apple computers?
I haven’t always been a fan. One thing I’m slightly concerned about is I don’t want to be seen as some kind of apologist for Apple. I love their products, I think they’re a fascinating company but it’s the iPod which I think has generated this interest. I am a great fan of the company but I don’t want to become some sort of evangelist.
But you do use Apple computers in addition to using your iPod?
Absolutely. I’ve got a PowerBook G4 in front of me right now.
When you first got your iPod, did you ever imagine that you’d become so enamored and attached to it?
Not at all. I was kind of intrigued more than anything else. I’ve really become besotted and it’s basically the only way that I listen to music now, whether I listen to it when I’m running on headphones or at home playing through speakers or abroad through travel speakers or in the car with a dock, it’s always with me.
Do you not buy CDs or records or anything anymore?
No, I still do. I download but I also buy CDs, too. I actually like having the physical artifact. I’m not so enamored with digital culture that I want to get rid of all my CDs.
You had mentioned in the book that when you were putting together your playlist that you had edited down a lot of the records and CDs that you listened to. Do you ever listen to them in their entirety anymore?
The weird thing is there are very few that I do, actually, very, very few, and that’s one of the interesting things, for me, anyway, is playing all these CDs and realizing that very few are perfect. I doubt whether I have more than 50 CDs that I think are perfect.
What was the one CD that surprised you the most that you ended up taking the fewest tracks from?
Probably "Sgt. Pepper."
And what one surprised you that you ended up taking the most from?
Probably "Dark Side of the Moon," actually, which isn’t my favorite record but is one of those that you can play all the way through. "Pet Sounds" is one of my favorite records but it’s ruined by "Sloop John B."
About how much time do you think you spend every day listening to your iPod, uploading new things onto it, learning new things about it?
I went through a kind of long, drawn-out process where I would fiddle with it and play with it every day but now that it’s become something I use, I don’t play with it every day but it’s the only way in which I listen to music, it’s totally changed the way I listen to music.
When you were going through that long process, what did your family and friends think about you and your iPod? Was anybody concerned?
They thought I was very sad. I think my wife was very relieved when I said I was writing a book about it because I think she felt that this had been a productive process rather than just a kind of mad hobby I was involved with.
Does she have an iPod as well?
I bought her a Mini iPod and a Shuffle as well.
Did you program songs in for her?
Absolutely. She loves that, she doesn’t want to do it herself. She thinks I’m very sad for wanting to do it myself.
How long did it take you to actually write the book?
On and off about nine months.
How were you able to get such access to people and information behind Apple for the book?
Just a lot of research and a lot of diligence, basically.
What does the company think about the book?
I have no idea, to be honest with you. Apple are a very odd company, they’re at the forefront of industrial design and they’ve changed the way that we consume so many things globally and they’re an astonishing success but they’re very protective and I’ve got no idea whether they liked the book or not.
I would hope they would like it because it’s a love letter to their most famous successful product. They certainly haven’t communicated that so one doesn’t know.
What kind of response have you gotten for the book so far?
It’s been mixed, some reviews have been fantastic, some have been awful. It’s fine, I take everything on the chin. It’s been noticed, it’s got a lot of publicity, which I’m very grateful for.
What are you hoping that readers get from your book?
I hope they empathize and I hope they see, I think people will recognize the journey, and although everyone has very particular tastes, everyone’s musical taste is idiosyncratic, hopefully the process will resonate with people.
When you were writing this did you feel like you were talking more to people who already have iPods, people who are thinking about it, people who don’t really know anything about the machine?
Not bothered really, it might encourage people to go and buy iPods, it might encourage those with iPods to kind of explore them a little bit more. It’s my story really, it’s not meant to be an advertisement for it, just a kind of catalog of the process of my love affair with it, really.
Why do you think that it made sense for U2 to have its own iPod?
I think it was a very cool marketing idea, Apple are a very hip company, and I think it fits in with U2′s kind of ethos.
What kind of positive impact can something like that have for a band?
I think it shows that they’re hip to downloading, that they’re hip to Apple, that they like iPods and they find it kind of mildly subversive as well as being quite cool.
What advice would you offer to someone who’s thinking about getting an iPod?
Buy the biggest one you can afford and just go for it, because if you like it you’re going to love it and you’re going to keep doing it. I think what you should probably do is muck around with someone else’s, that’s what happened with me, and then when I did that I just couldn’t wait to get my own, it’s very seductive.