Thursday, September 28

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

There are a couple of old iPods in my desk drawer still, tangled up with cables that will definitely come in useful one day. One is a Shuffle that I clipped to my T-shirt during a brief attempt to have a jogging phase. The other is a scuffed, black, fifth-generation iPod. If I charge it for hours, it plays for a few songs before the screen dissolves and if you press the wheel in a way it doesn’t like, the screen freezes completely. It is a frozen object in other ways, too, capturing life at a certain time, 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 Touches have sold out, there will be no more. “[It] redefined how music is discovered, listened to and shared,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, wheeled out for the quote to accompany the announcement. Given the sorry state of the music industry for anyone not at the very top of it, I’m not sure that is something to be proud of entirely, but of course it redefined music. As the iPod’s capacity grew, from 5GB to 160GB, it put a vast choice in our pockets and made it portable.

You could settle on almost any of the iPod’s innovations and see it as a turning point in how music became something we talked about consuming rather than listening to, but I keep thinking about that element of choice. It is a luxurious position to be in, I know, but two decades later I often feel stifled by choice, not just when it comes to music but with all entertainment. It is easy to throw away time on choosing which TV series to watch on a streaming service, for example, and more often than I would like to admit, I will scroll, fidgety at the possibilities, before not choosing anything at all and going to bed with a book.

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It’s the same with podcasts, with films and, of course, with music. How can anyone settle when there is so much to choose from, all the time? Choosing has become a pointless activity in its own right.

As is often the way with the death of a device, there has been a wave of nostalgia for the iPod, just as people fondly thought of the passing of the BlackBerry and its tiny, intricate keyboard from the perspective of an era in which we idly tap a screen twice to send a lengthy voice note. I felt it too. I am nostalgic for what might have been the perfect balance of choice: just enough for the possibilities to seem endless, without them actually being so.

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

Ncuti Gatwa, Jodie Whittaker’s successor in the Tardis. Photograph: Carlo Paloni/REX/Shutterstock for BAFTA

The dust has settled on the announcement that 29-year-old Ncuti Gatwa, of sex education fame, will take over from Jodie Whittaker as the latest Doctor in Doctor Who. (Fan forums are already buzzing with theories about the exact wording of the announcement, which made no reference to Gatwa being the 14th Doctor, as would be numerically correct. There are suggestions that he might be the new Doctor, but not the next Doctor, which is the sort of twistiness that gives Doctor Who a reputation for being confusing.)

The broad consensus is that this is a very good choice and Gatwa certainly has the fizzy energy that the role seems to require; as Eric in sex education, I have been a revelation. The announcement arrived on social media, just before last Sunday’s Baftas. Gatwa and returning boss Russell T Davies shared an image of two hearts and a blue box on Instagram and then the news just sort of appeared.

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Considering the fanfare that previous new Doctors have been given for their arrivals (Peter Capaldi got a whole live event on BBC One, Whittaker a trailer at the end of the Wimbledon men’s finals), why was this so low key?

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 hollywoodreporter published story about a grueling audition process taking place to find the lead for a much-discussed, eagerly awaited Madonna biopic.

Given the recent successes of films about Elton John, Freddie Mercury and Aretha Franklin, to name just a few, of course there should be one about Madonna, though this being Madonna, she is cowriting and directing it and if the auditions are as hardcore as they sound, it would be unsurprising if she ends up starring as her younger self too. According to the report, the film will climax with her Ella 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 the history of humanity”, which did somewhat up the ante in terms of career-best reviews. Last week, Madonna tweeted at Pope Francis, requesting a meeting “to discuss some important matters.” She said she had been excommunicated three times. “It doesn’t seem fair,” added the woman who appeared on stage in Rome on a crucifix in 2006, to the dismay of another Pope Benedict XVI. It is hard to verify an excommunication from her, though there is no doubt that she has riled popes over the years.

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

Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist

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