Culture //

The desert of the wheel

Mary Ward pens a elegy for the iPod clickwheel.

I remember when we first met.

It was Christmas morning, 2004. You were just off the boat from China (via California, as you always made sure to remind me) and I was a wide-eyed schoolgirl who had sat on Santa’s knee while pointing to a billboard.

“The pink mini, please!”

Two weeks passed and you arrived.

At first I didn’t understand you. I didn’t know what made you tick. “How can I make you tick?” I cried. Then I realised you were covered in a clear plastic protective film, and it all made sense.

Once we stopped using protection, well… that’s when the magic happened.

Your song wasn’t exactly a tick, more of a click. And we clicked, you and I. We really did.

You let me control you unlike I had ever controlled any user access point for a portable music device. I had you completely under my thumb. Hilary Duff, Nikki Webster, Jamelia – you never judged me for my choices. And, with a simple hit of your central button I could pinpoint exactly where in Track 12 of the Lizzie McGuire Movie soundtrack I wanted to start dancing around my room to.

It was truly what dreams are made of.

You never shamed me for using you after eating greasy food, or with fingers sweaty from a spin bike. Hell, you revelled in it. With your easy-to-clean surface you remained perennially a sparkling white.

Eventually you left me in your first incarnation (it wasn’t your fault – the stupid screen decided to bail on our jam sessions; obviously not sharing our penchant for Fall Out Boy and Sandy Thom). But, luckily, you came back to me atop a second device.

You were a bit smaller (ironic, given that my thumbs had grown a bit larger over those past five years), and a bit sleeker, and if I held down some of your buttons you were able to take me to new and wondrous places we had never been before. You were different, yes. But you were there.

And, I know what you’re going to say: you’re still there. This is true. I know that some might think it is in bad taste to write a eulogy for someone who isn’t actually dead. For someone who is, in fact, still a huge part of your life.

But, you see, those folks in the California labs (the ones you kid yourself into thinking you come from) have different ideas. With their decision to retire the iPod Classic, their assault on your kind is nearly complete.

For now, you’ll continue to exist as freely as you did two months ago. Then only on eBay. Then only in the hands of tech nuts who will take you and try to put you onto other things, as some sort of retro customisation. Then, eventually, not at all.

My click wheel. My sweet, sweet click wheel. I will continue to click you when that blur in the corner of my iPod screen has spread across the whole display. I will continue to click you when I update my laptop software and it deletes the entire library you helped me to curate. I will continue to click you when Microsoft get their act together and release a music player that doesn’t look like it was designed by an eight-year-old boy with no eyes or hands.

I will keep clicking you then. But, I fear, I cannot continue to hear your click forever.