The “iPod Touch” that I won on an eBay auction arrived in the mail yesterday. It’s one of those factory refurbished units. Basically, they cleaned it up, installed a new battery, then packaged it with new cords and ear-buds into a new display box. I’m not an Apple fan-boy, but I wanted to find out if the product was as convenient as the two “iPod Shuffle” units that were given to me several years ago.
I removed the protective stickers, then plugged it into the charger. The charging process was excruciatingly slow. When the iPod was fully charged, the learning curve was much steeper than I expected. I realized the unit would be unsuitable for the purpose for which I bought it–to play music and podcasts in the car. Despite its simple, cosmetic appearance, the iPod was far too fiddly to use in a car. I could imagine being distracted and crashing.
So, I’ll stay with the very simple iPod Shuffle units that were designed to be intuitively simple to operate. I just switch them on and press the play button. There is no boot-up interval and no complicated procedure to get sound out of them. Best of all, they are much safer to use in an automotive environment.
As for the iPod Touch, its functions are better expressed on my Galaxy Phone which boots up almost instantly and is more intuitive to use. I don’t think I’ll be going down the Apple rabbit hole again any time soon.
This experience with the iPod Touch reminds me that simplicity is a nuanced concept. Some things look simple but are actually complicated to understand and to use. I’m reminded of a wise Albert Einstein quote, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I think the iPod Touch was made as simple as possible and had crossed the boundary into being made simpler than “simple as possible”. It was built cosmetically simple without actually embodying the virtue of simplicity.
As I get older, I don’t like fiddly things. I don’t want gadgets that have steep learning curves. I don’t want to fritter away my precious time by having to investigate fussy details of a product. When I want to play some music, I don’t want to wait for a gadget to boot up and then go through a bunch of rigmarole just to get to the composition I want.
It’s easier to just play a CD or vinyl record on my home stereo. That’s what I call balanced simplicity. I don’t have to worry if the music will disappear because of expired permission, nor be concerned about arcane licensing issues and subscription fees. The playback is elegantly simple. The music is always conveniently available and usable. There is no intermediary technology like apps or Internet between the player and the amplifier.
Simplicity is usually thought of as a branch of philosophical thinking. I like to take it a step further and combine the philosophy of simplicity with the practical world of mundane, everyday objects. The fewer bells and whistles a product has generally means the product will last longer and provide more useful service.
“Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.”–Lao Tzu
I’ve never used half of the attachments that were included with my vacuum cleaner. I don’t want to be bothered learning how to use the various program modes of my microwave cooking appliance. I just want the devices to reliably do the tasks I bought them to do. When I vacuum the floor, I just want to vacuum the floor. When I want a plate of food, I just want to heat a plate of food.
In today’s frustratingly complicated world, all I ask for, is balanced simplicity, please.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes activist, writer, poet, textile designer in the British Arts and Crafts movement, William Morris. “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”