Nostalgia for a classic from a few years ago - the iPod

The original Apple iPod.
The original Apple iPod. PHOTO: APPLE

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Last spring, Mr Connor Gressitt, then a senior at New York University, travelled to Mexico with friends. As they cruised down back roads far from any cellular towers, the notion of accessing Spotify through their iPhones became laughable. Mr Gressitt's friends were desperate for some kind of soundtrack for their road trip, and they did not know what to do. That is, until he pulled out an archaic device.

"I brought my iPod," he said.

A holdout in a generation of music fans who rely on streaming services, he had been listening to music on his trusty old iPod since 2007.

"As soon as they saw music on it," he said, "they were like, 'Okay, sick'." 

As he told the story of the Mexico adventure on a recent evening at his apartment in New York City, the device, an iPod Classic he had received as a Christmas present almost 10 years ago, was charging next to him. It was still in the original plastic case, and it showed little wear.

Part of a cohort that came of age when people owned the songs they listened to and stored them on their digital devices rather than streaming them, Mr Gressitt, 21, finds himself an outlier.

"I definitely get odd looks," he said. "I was using it on the subway two weeks ago, and someone my age asked me, 'Is that, like, an iPod?' and I said, 'Yeah, dude.' I get weird looks, but people are stoked, actually, because most everyone had an iPod at one point of their lives."

Indeed the early iPods - de-emphasised and partly phased out by Apple as the iPhone became ubiquitous - were the means for an entire generation to know music. If baby boomers and Generation Xers can wax lyrical about the glory of vinyl, millennials can be forgiven if they do the same with their MP3 players.

Had Mr Gressitt been willing to part with his device, he may have found an eager buyer in Mr Lance Totten, the Atlanta set decorator for the recently released film Baby Driver. In the movie, old iPods (along with Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx) play a supporting role to the music-besotted protagonist, a getaway driver played by Ansel Elgort.

In a pivotal flashback scene, one sees the character in his youth opening up the first version of the product and then using it to listen to music during a car crash that takes the lives of his parents. As a young man, the hero, known as Baby, listens to music on a series of vintage iPods.

When he first began work on Baby Driver in 2015, Mr Totten was unaware that Apple had discontinued the production of its much beloved iPod Classic. Soon he and his staff went about tracking down as many as they could, spending roughly US$2,500 (S$3,400) on some 100 iPods.

"It forced me to look more analytically at something I hadn't given much thought about," he said, "because you see they went through all these iterations. Just sourcing them was a challenge. It was time-consuming but fun. I got to see iPods I never even heard of."

Mr Totten, who clings stubbornly to the same iPod he has used since 2005, did not understand why the film's hero would have so many iPods until director Edgar Wright explained that Baby had taken the devices from the many cars he had stolen over the years.

"To me, it made sense as to why the soundtrack is as disparate as it is," Mr Totten said. "The music is all over the map because he's learned about this stuff from the people's iPods."

With software marching ever onward, with the never-ending update prompts, those who own old iPods worry that they could lose the music stored on their devices.

Mr Gressitt, for one - with 5,998 songs on his 2007 iPod, including some he has not been able to find on Spotify or Pandora - said he can no longer download music onto his device because the external hard drive that served as his music collection's backup crashed last January.  If he tries an update, he said, he risks watching in horror as his iPod reverts to its factory settings and his thousands of songs vanish into the digital ether.

"What do I do when it all disappears?" Mr Gressitt wondered. "It's provided the soundtrack for these beautiful moments in my life."