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August 18th, 2017

The Village Idiot

'Messy,' modern non-problems

Jim Mullen

By Jim Mullen

Published July 13, 2015

I just read a review of the latest update of iTunes where the writer complained that he thought it was "messy."

Yes, it could let him listen to millions of records, and yes, it could go through his listening history and pick out songs that it thought he would like without him lifting a finger. But after three days of use, every now and then it would play a song that the reviewer didn't like.

What a huge letdown. How will his life go on? Please, give this guy his money back before he hurts himself. Oh, I forgot: iTunes is free. For the first few months, anyway.

If only he had a mixtape from the '80s, or a vinyl collection from the '60s. Back then, all you had to do to hear your favorite music was go to the record store, find the vinyl album you wanted, buy it, put it on a turntable, find the track you wanted and play the song. If you didn't like the next song, all you had to do was lift the needle, take off the album, put it in its sleeve -- being careful not to scratch it -- and then put it on top of the stack of other albums you had been playing.

Of course, if you were in your car, at work or in school, none of that worked. You had to listen to what they called "the radio," and it picked the music you would hear, whether you liked it or not. Talk about messy.

On the new iTunes, you might have to hit a button two or three times to find the song you want -- a song that will never scratch, skip or break and that you probably didn't pay for. What a hassle. Life has gotten so hard.

When I'm driving, I listen to one of the 40 or 50 audiobooks on my cellphone. That same phone is also a text-sending device, a calendar, a Dictaphone, a Rolodex, a word processor, a camera, a radio, a Walkman, a library, an encyclopedia, a TV, a video recorder, a language translator, an e-reader, a bank, a travel agent, a personal trainer, a call-screener, a GPS navigator and oh, yeah -- a phone. And it costs about the same as the landline in my house, which does nothing but ring with robocallers trying to sell me things I don't want and didn't ask for.

Yes, I know that it's irritating to see people talking on cellphones in grocery stores, in airports and in their cars, oblivious to everyone else. But that the user's fault, not the phone's. Some people drink and drive; do you blame the car? Some people light fireworks off their heads; some people misuse their phones. Sure, cellphones can be annoying and intrusive. Maybe even messy. So can regular phones.

I think it's in our DNA to complain about things. When ATMs first came out, I was very leery of using them. Who would I complain to if the thing shortchanged me? How would I prove it? So I'd take out the smallest amount of money I could. Gradually, I realized that they were trustworthy. And it floored me that I could use them anywhere I traveled, unlike my bank. Need cash while you're in Florida for two weeks? Not a problem.

I don't remember them charging a fee in the beginning; after all, it's not like they have to pay the ATM a pension, benefits or overtime wages. Now, they charge a hefty fee to take out my own money. It's infuriating. Still, I bet most people in Greece would love to pay any fee to get their own money out of their own bank.

Talk about messy.

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Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo."

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