The Comfortable iPod Shuffle of Routine

In 2008 when I left Orange they bought me a 2nd generation iPod Shuffle. Since then it's been my mp3 player of choice. Even after the phones I owned became passable, and before long excellent, mp3 players themselves.

It clips over a belt or the edge of a pocket and so unlike a phone you can play, pause, skip tracks and control volume right there with physical buttons. Buttons that give a nice little click when used. And it's lasted all this time. It’s simple and beautiful by design and well manufactured.

At one point or another I started listening almost exclusively to podcasts on it. Even while running. Podcasts have been a big thing for me.

Back then iTunes was the main way to subscribe to podcasts and I was using it anyway with the iPod so that was fine. I used my personal (not work) laptop that I wasn’t on every day so I tended to only refresh the feeds and download new episodes once a week.

There’d usually be quite a few so they’d take a while to download. Then I’d drag them from iTunes into the iPod (after removing the ones from the previous week that I've now listened to). This took a while too because they were going over a USB cable.

Then I'd have to drag them into the order I wanted to listen to them in. The lack of screen on the iPod Shuffle means there's no real way pick specific tracks so it's best to line them up beforehand in iTunes.

This is what I’ve done for years now. Like some old man going through the same old daily rituals without questioning them. The iPod has been with me all that time, which is a testament to how well made it is, but that’s also meant that I’ve not really thought about whether it was the best thing or not.

Recently it’s been showing its age somewhat. Battery life is dwindling and it sometimes forgets where I left off listening, meaning it’ll start an episode from the beginning even though I’ve listened to half of it already. With some episodes over 2 hours long, it can be a pain slowly scanning forward trying to find where I was at. iTunes was starting to not interface with it properly too, either not syncing or occasionally not recognising it at all.

So the other day I installed a podcast app on my phone and started using that. Whoooosh! You see the cover art, you subscribe, they download, you can dip in, rearrange, drag the slider along, play them from whenever, skip forward, jump back. The episodes pop automatically in throughout the week, download with a single tap and are available for listening immediately. It’s all just so … seamless.

Now you might be thinking. So what? How banal. New technology makes something easier. Wooppeedoo! But for me what’s strange is that I missed it. I spent all this time pushing a boulder up a hill when I could have been sliding smoothly down the other side? How funny that I never quite managed to bring myself to move away from that thing? How bizarre that I didn’t really cross my mind how much better the whole thing would work on an internet connected device with a touch screen?

When I think of this I wonder whether it’s because I’m getting older (the phrase “set it my ways” pops to mind) or I wonder whether actually, despite my love of new technologies and my excitement about these kind of continual improvements, I’m actually much more a creature of habit than I think.

Routine, in life, is a wonderful way not to have to think or make decisions on a day to day basis. That can be a great relief, considering we are living under an tyranny of huge, and often needless, choice right now. How nice to get the point where you don’t need to think any more about what hairstyle to have or what to eat for breakfast because you’ve found something that works for you and you’re content to stick to it. I heartily recommend it as a method of negotiating modern life, and I do a lot of it myself.

But those of us in the business of change could do well to remember how powerful the comfort of routine can be. How persuading people to leave that comfort and join us in the future is about more than just pointing out how much better something is. Nature itself is predisposed towards finding a thing that works and sticking to it. So breaking people out of that is often harder than we think. Even when the benefits of the new thing seem so self-evident to us.

It’s also worth remembering that we can be just as susceptible to the comfortable power of routine as anyone else.