I got my first glimpse of digital counterculture in college. The iPod – which was only a few years old at the time – was a far cry from today’s iPhone, but a sign of inexplicable style and richness. I didn’t have either, so I couldn’t afford an iPod. Instead, I hugged an Apple competitor, which had long since established itself as the butt of every joke. Determined to prove the mainstream world wrong, I sided with the underdog of the tech world and made Zune my lover. Here is the story of my brief love affair with an abandoned MP3 player.
Find love at a Best Buy
I was browsing Best Buy when I came across the Apple section of the store. A complicated mixture of envy, disgust and shame ran through my brain as I mumbled complaints under my breath. It’s too small. Too elegant. Too handsome. So ugly. My thumb traced circles around its silky click wheel. That’s when something caught my eye in another part of the store: a Microsoft Zunes screen begging to be touched. I took one and fiddled with its noticeably smaller click wheel / pad hybrid. A beautiful, illuminated 3.2 inch glass LCD display with a refreshingly different image of Bono’s face. I found the 120GB device as beautiful as it was technologically confusing: wireless sync, built-in FM radio, video support, and enough music quality for a guy who was still listening to a lot of ska. I paid $ 190 for the floor model. No box, no headphones, no instruction manual, no problem.
I fell in love quickly, spending hours burning my collection of gruesome CDs to my PC at molasses speed in winter and then transferring them to the Zune. It’s hard to describe the public’s enthusiasm for Apple at this precise point in history. It was oppressive and fiery, with a sense of blind loyalty rivaling the MAGA crowd. If you didn’t own an iPod, you had to get one. If you listened to your music on anything other than an iPod – let alone a product of Apple’s archnemesis – you were an outcast. I fell into my new social position quite easily, trying as hard as possible to deflect my friends and family’s tongue-in-cheek comments with facts and figures to explain what drew me to this oppressed MP3 player.
It was bigger and less ergonomic, of course – but I found the excitement in the unknown. All you saw when you turned on your television was the iPod. If you think 2021 is a harsh environment for owners of unusable products, try remembering what the world was like in 2009, when a hotel chain’s reputation could instantly increase with the introduction of loading documents. iPod integrated in each room. Apparently, each product was specifically Apple compatible: car chargers, portable speakers, etc. I have a distinct memory of walking around Boston with my Zune in my right pocket and a charging cord in the left. I have to assume that other Zune owners have felt at least some semblance of what I did whenever a family member or stranger asked if they could touch my hideous MP3 player.
“I have so many fond memories of my Zune, including the one that led to its downfall.”
“Oh wow, it’s so bulky,” they said, unknowingly half a decade before they yearned for the gargantuan 2010s iPhones that eclipsed adult hands. They had made a big production, feigning frustration with alien buttons.
“How do you use this? It’s so big! How do you put music on it? Do you want to hold my Nano? My Zune was still too big, too confusing, and too different from what people were used to. It was as if Apple had made the world forget how to press buttons; it was the generation of the gray wheel.
Death of Zune
I have so many fond memories of my Zune, including the one that led to its downfall. On a road trip from Connecticut to California with my brother and best friend, I busted my Zune and regaled the car with what I’m sure was Reel Big Fish-adjacent. I was the one driving when they started circulating it, marveling at the HD quality videos and the awesome album art that would explode on the screen as the songs played. They were guys from a different stock – very different from the more hip college friends who ridiculed my music player. They saw my Zune for what it was: a marvel of modern technology.
Zune didn’t have Bono, that was never a major plot point on an episode of Office, and I’d like to challenge you to remember even a single Zune ad. You can not.
Admittedly, the Zune went offline for legitimate reasons – it didn’t have iTunes, the market that came with it was a mess, no one made Zune accessories, and it just couldn’t compete with a company. innovative like Apple. Microsoft officially discontinued the Zune in 2012, two years after the lackluster Zune HD 64 released. My Zune met its destiny during the same road trip that gave me confidence in the outsider MP3 player. Somewhere between Virginia and New York, I put a song on and dropped the Zune in my cup holder, where a little McDonald’s Diet Coke had leaked most of its contents hours before. When the music stopped, I assumed I ran out of batteries. Then I saw what had happened.
Remember that scene from Terminator 2 when Sarah Connor has to lower the Terminator into the lava because the Terminators can’t self-destruct? Through tears, young John Connor watches his robot buddy slowly melt into the lava, a thumbs-up as the very last move he can make before complete destruction. I had a track or two of music before my Zune officially died a day later, but I would like to think that a small part of me drowned in that muddy ocean of Coke with my prized music player . Maybe I was tired of fighting, maybe because I had finally started making money, but I knew my date with the tech counterculture was over.
Now, as I sit with a Macbook in my lap and an iPhone in my hands, I don’t think about what I lost when my Zune died, but how the world was never ready for. the short-lived MP3 player. Maybe things would have been different if the Zune had dropped during the peak of streaming, maybe Microsoft could have teamed up with Liam Neeson – a decidedly cooler Irishman – for a partnership that would have made U2 the freak. Wiggles.
Zune taught me a lot. I’ve learned to choose my battles, especially when it comes to swimming against the tide for the thrill. I’ll always hold a small torch for a product that made me feel special – like giving money to one conglomerate over the other is the lesser of two evils. At the very least, I stopped listening to ska.