Farewell to the iPod, the device that ushered in too much choice | Rebecca Nicholson

Jhere are a few more old iPods in my desk drawer, tangled with cables that will surely come in handy one day. One is a Shuffle that I attached to my T-shirt in a brief attempt to have a jogging phase. The other is a scratched black fifth-generation iPod. If I charge it for hours it plays a few songs before the screen dissolves and if you press the dial in a way it doesn’t like the screen freezes completely. It’s also a frozen object in other ways, capturing life at a certain moment, in playlists called things such as Dip It Low!! and happy birthday Matt 7.

Last week, after just over 20 years, it was announced that the iPod was going to be discontinued; when the last remaining iPod Touch’s run out, there won’t be any left. “[It] has redefined the way music is discovered, heard and shared,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, who requested the quote that accompanied the announcement. Given the dire state of the music industry for anyone not at the top, I’m not sure it’s something to be entirely proud of, but of course it redefined music. As the capacity of iPod increased from 5GB to 160GB, it put a vast choice in our pockets and made it portable.

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You could settle for almost any innovation in the iPod and see it as a turning point in how music has become something we used to talk about consuming rather than listening to, but I keep thinking about that element of choice. It’s a luxurious position, I know, but two decades later, I often feel smothered in choices, not just when it comes to music, but with all entertainment. It’s easy to waste time deciding which TV series to watch on a streaming service for example, and more often than I’d like to admit, I’ll scroll, fidgeting at the possibilities, before choosing nothing at all and go to bed with a book.

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It’s the same with podcasts, with movies and, of course, with music. How can you settle down when there are so many choices, all the time? Choosing has become a useless activity in itself.

As is often the case with the death of a device, there was a wave of nostalgia for the iPod, just as people thought fondly of the death of the BlackBerry and its small, complex keyboard from the point of view of ‘a time when we were lazily double tapping a screen to send a long voice note. I felt it too. I’m nostalgic for what might have been the perfect balance of choice: just enough to make the possibilities seem endless, but actually aren’t.

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Ncuti Gatwa: no better man to be the new Doctor Who

Ncuti Gatwa
Ncuti Gatwa, successor to Jodie Whittaker in the Tardis. Photography: Carlo Paloni/REX/Shutterstock for BAFTA

The dust settled on the announcement that Ncuti Gatwa, 29, from Sex education fame, will succeed Jodie Whittaker as the last Doctor of Doctor Who. (Fan forums are already buzzing with theories about the exact wording of the ad, which made no reference to Gatwa being the 14th Doctor, which would be numerically correct. There are suggestions that he might be the New Doctor, but not the next Doctor, that’s the kind of twist that gives Doctor Who a reputation for being confusing.)

The broad consensus is that he is a very good choice and Gatwa certainly has the bubbly energy that the role seems to require; like Eric in Sex education, it was a revelation. The announcement arrived on social networks, just before the Baftas last Sunday. Gatwa and returning boss Russell T Davies shared an image of two hearts and a blue box on Instagram, and then the news kind of broke.

Given the fanfare previous New Doctors received for their arrivals (Peter Capaldi had a whole live event on BBC One, Whittaker a trailer at the end of the Wimbledon men’s final), why was it so discreet ?

Madonna: Still Shocking Popes After All These Years

Madonna on stage in Colombia.
Madonna on stage in Colombia. Photograph: Fredy Builes/AFP/Getty Images

In March, the Hollywood journalist published a story about a grueling audition process underway to find the lead for a much-discussed and highly anticipated Madonna biopic.

Given the recent success of films about Elton John, Freddie Mercury and Aretha Franklin, to name a few, of course there should be one about Madonna, although it’s Madonna, she co-writes and directs it and if the auditions are as hardcore as they sound, it wouldn’t be surprising if she ended up playing the role of her younger self as well. According to the report, the film will culminate with his Blond Ambition Tour, still one of the greatest pop shows of all time.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II disagreed, urging people to boycott “one of the most satanic shows in human history”, which upped the ante somewhat in terms of career best reviews. Last week, Madonna tweeted to Pope Francis, requesting a meeting “to discuss some important issues”. She said she had been excommunicated three times. “It doesn’t seem fair,” added one who appeared on stage in Rome on a crucifix in 2006, much to the chagrin of another Pope Benedict XVI. It’s hard to verify an excommunication, though there’s no doubt it’s pissed off popes over the years.

Arguing for excommunication fairness with the current pontiff the same week she releases a digital art NFT triptych involving nudity and trees and butterflies from intimate places makes me think it’s a shame that the biopic ends in 1990. The current era would be a masterpiece.

Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist

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