20 – An Ode To The Zen

It may surprise you, reader, to learn that I once harbored very anti-Apple sentiments. Before I acquired my iPhone and Macbook, I promised myself that I would never join the Cult of Macintosh. A lifetime (one decade) ago, I saw Apple products as too mainstream for me. In an age where almost everyone had iPods, I was one of the lone holdouts. If everyone had one, I wanted no part of it. And while Macs seemed like high quality computers, and they certainly weren’t as commonly owned as they are today, I was very happy with the service my PC provided me. There was something about Apple that just didn’t resonate with me.

There’s no greater object from my past that symbolizes this rebellious period than my 3rd-party mp3 player, the Creative Zen. Oft mistaken for the Microsoft Zune, the Zen was quite different in many ways (though eventually suffered the same fate as its phonetic cousin). Creative is better known for its speakers than other hardware, but it managed to produce a whole line of mp3 players to varying degrees of commercial success.

I originally discovered the brand in 2006, as I researched different products while searching for my first mp3 player. I’m not sure how many different products I sifted through, but I eventually landed on the Zen V Plus to be my first foray into portable digital media. Not only did it have 2 GB of storage, which Creative promised could hold 1,000 songs, but it had additional features such as an FM radio and a joy stick controller. While I enjoyed listening to the player and used it often, I soon outgrew the storage limit. 2 GB, as it turned out, would barely hold 500 songs. Before switching players I’d have to delete music I wasn’t in love with in order to add new songs. There were even cases where if a song was too long I’d sometimes opt not to add it. After two years, it was time for a change.

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The last known photo of my Zen V Plus, taken on an airplane departing from Iowa in 2008.

Enter, the Zen Mozaic. Sure, the plastic body gave it a bit of a cheap feel, especially compared to the sleek aluminum of the iPod, but as soon as I handled one at a local Circuit City I knew it was the one. I was drawn to the design, featuring a pattern never before seen on an mp3 player. The miniature device also included a speaker built into it, unheard of at the time in such a multimedia device. At 8 GB, I knew it would take me a long time before outgrowing the storage limit. It was one of the best things I ever purchased in 2008.

Nine years later, the Mozaic is still going strong. Yes, you heard me correctly. I am one of the few in the age of consolidating devices who still makes the effort to lug around an mp3 player just for music. The combination of photos and apps on my phone makes it near impossible to have a decent library of songs on there; I have just 26 songs stored on my phone, deemed my emergency playlist (maybe I’ll elaborate on this concept in a future post). Despite the fact that I could consolidate all of my media if I really wanted to, there is something comforting about owning and using a device strictly for music. It feels pure and innocent, harking back to a day when not every device needed to connect to the Internet. I don’t need to have a connection to kick it to some groovy tunes.

The Zen Mozaic today, along with the case I bought for it from a street fair in 2009 that was definitely once a hipster’s shirt. Don’t mind the Bernie Sanders saucer.

I could have upgraded from the Zen to a newer mp3 player on a number of occasions over the last nine years, but I have never felt the need to. While at first the design of the player feels crappy to the touch, it has demonstrated surprising durability. The little device has been all over the world and has outlasted many of my other electronic devices. It survived summers at sleep-away camp, four years of college, as well as its fair share of drops and tumbles. The most surprising thing of all, however, is that I haven’t come close yet to meeting the 8 GB limit. I can attribute my selective addition strategy, the process of only adding select songs from albums, as the reason for my miniscule library. I know some enjoy listening to an album in its entirety, viewing the experience of listening from the first song to the last as the way the artist meant for the music to be enjoyed. I, on the other hand, don’t find much value in taking up space on the Zen with music I would never want to listen to. My Zen V Plus ways from my formative years have persisted more than a decade later. I still screen every song before deeming them worthy to add.

Of course, I may find a way to break the Mozaic one day that will force my hand to replace it. Unfortunately, the mp3 player market is not as robust as it once was. Creative has long since abandoned the Zen line, Microsoft has killed the Zune, and even the mighty iPod is seeing its days numbered. There are a few companies that still produce devices solely for listening to music, but how trustworthy they are is uncertain. There may come a day when I have to bite the bullet and put all of my music onto my phone, sacrificing photos and apps to get everything onto one machine. Until that day, however, I will continue to tote around my Zen and surprise the world.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Lee says:

    Not a fan of the zen. I enjoyed the ipod too much. Where did you get the Bernie Sanders ash trey?

    1. Jacob Albrecht says:

      Hi, Lee. The Bernie plate came from Fishs Eddy, though a quick search of their site revealed that it’s no longer on sale. I got it from their store in NYC shortly after he conceded defeat.

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