MP3 players tell us a lot about ourselves, and not just what sort of music we enjoy on an individual level. The discovery of a rudimentary flute crafted from a vulture's wing-bone and found to be at least 35,000 years old tells us an awful lot about ourselves. Human beings need music, we thrive on it. As a way of communicating without words, or making those words we do use bolder and bigger, music is and has always been an integral part of our lives, our spirituality and culture. There is no idea that cannot be expressed in music, and no force that reaches people's emotional depths as profoundly.
Music is an art form, but it is more than that, it is potentially Humanity's greatest achievement. It comes as no surprise, then, that we are constantly looking for new ways to create, perform and distribute music. You may roll your eyes when you read interviews with pampered pop stars who claim that songs are 'in the ether' explaining that they simply pluck fully formed songs out of thin air like you or I might absent-mindedly pick dandelions on a warm Summer's day, but trust me, as a part-time singer-songwriter, it's a lot like that.
Technologically speaking, music has come along in leaps and bounds over the centuries, being recorded and reproduced in any number of ways. Initially, songs were simply repeated, taught to new artists and performed over and over again as a method of recording. You may laugh, but this method of recording has kept millions of songs alive for more years than you could possibly live. The next innovation came with the dissemination of a structured musical language, which explained to the educated performer how to re-create these sounds.
Musical 'notation' and the ability to 'read' music, ensured that even more beauty was correctly catalogued and stored for future generations, an archive of magnificence gifted to us by ancestors we could never physically meet. In this way, music is truly transcendent, not just emotionally, or in a Psuedo-Platonic sense, but in a very measurable, quantifiable way. Music transcends cultural barriers, racial prejudice and social concerns, to be re-born, Pheonix-like, as a redeemer for each successive generation. Likewise, social songs take their place in history as snapshots of an age, but, more directly, as a catalyst for social change and reform.
As technology raced forward, sounds could be stored and placed on wax discs, which could then re-produce them at will. I won't bore you any more with technical data (not least of which because I don't know it myself) but suffice to say that the phonograph begat the record player and the record player begat the CD player. Or something like that. MP3 players, our current system of choice, celebrate music's return from the confines of the physical world and back to the intangible dreamscape from whence they arrived. In addition to being the first truly portable music medium (think about it), MP3 players benefit from never needing the disc changed, the tape re-wound, or the side switched.
MP3 players run on the same basic need as that which created the vulture-wing flute 35,000 (or more) years earlier, it's a need to hear music, a need to enjoy music and, to be more precise, an emotional release caused by the feel of music. I like to think of MP3 players as a sort of time machine, using which I can trace the echoes left by the victims of black oppression in 1930's America, the ingenuity and majesty of eighteenth-century Europe, the buoyancy and spirit of the 1960's, the didactic morality plays of rural Africa, or what it felt like to be a punk in the UK, circa 1977.
Using MP3 players, we can all become time travellers and connect to a tapestry so impossibly vast and exciting that it almost defies comprehension. MP3 players have given us the most precise and direct passport to this land of self-discovery. In a world where we've barely got time to sit on the toilet, we're suddenly able to drag our personal musical libraries into this morass of modernity with us. This is no accident, we invented it because we needed to. Today, our music goes where we go, colouring the landscape and flavouring it with feelings of our choosing. A drab, emotionless dirge of a tube ride can now become a psychedelic journey, complete with schizoid guitars and drug-addled squeals. A pleasant, autumnal bike ride can give way to a frenzied assault on the senses via some heavy metal thunder. MP3s are the newest, coolest way to listen and learn of very old things.