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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the iPod

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In one of his books of humor, Woody Allen wrote of his long-term battle with technology. If memory serves, he describes how he invited all of his appliances into the living room where everything started out civilly enough until the TV acted up and then the toaster and then the oven. Before he knew it, he was at war with these machines.

I too, like many a Diaspora Jew, have had my clashes with technology. At our first Chanukah/Christmas together, my wife, Barbara, who had no money, pawned her late husband's guitars to buy me a high-quality camera because she thought that the reason why I used the disposable kind was because I could not afford anything fancier. In fact, I used disposable cameras because they were and are easy to work. When Barbara found out that I could afford to buy a nice camera but that I was a technophobe, she and I had a chuckle. It was a moment worthy of O. Henry.

I don't know whatever happened to that camera. Like a lot of gadgets in our house, it got lost under piles of bills, clothing and books. This is not my wife's doing. It is mine. Like many people suffering from mental illness, I hoard miscellaneous items and rarely organize the mess that lies scattered through our office.

Recently, however, my step-daughter Jane unearthed an iPod which she bought me for my birthday last year. It has been a revelation for me.

In an act of foresight and wisdom, Jane and her boyfriend, Nick, programmed not only Stones albums, they also added some Bob Dylan tunes.

I had been in a rut when I turned on the iPod and found that it was playing songs in a randomized sequence. This was a blessing because previously when I was listening to Hot Rocks (sides three and four on the vinyl version), I would get mad at myself if, after "Jumping Jack Flash" or "Street Fighting Man," I hadn't reached a certain intersection in the hills I climb behind my house.

By stumbling inadvertently upon the shuffle songs feature, I no longer had to worry about how fast I was hiking because I did not know what songs would come on next and thus had no sense of how far I needed to be at the end of each tune.

The next morning when I tried playing the iPod, it had reverted to the non-randomized, regular rotation of songs on Hot Rocks. Much as I love that double-album, one of the best compilations of rock and roll one will ever hear, I wanted to be surprised by the music, to be surprised by what awaited me on my journey.

Indeed, I was reluctant to go on my hike without the randomized sequence. I was losing my motivation about exercising, something I need to do every day to help me ward off major depression, when I started pressing the menu key. After tapping it a few times, I discovered the feature I was seeking. I touched the screen, and "Tumbling Dice," one of my favorite songs and an adrenaline rush from Exile on Main Street, started playing. I immediately put on my earphones, excused myself from my wife, and headed out the door for my afternoon constitutional.

As I have written before, Shylock may be damned more than anything else by his lack of an ear for music. For the rest of us, music can propel us forward, can mitigate depression, but I have learned that when I exercise I never want my ear to get too accustomed to the pattern of songs. I like the element of surprise, especially when it can relieve me of guilt at the pace at which I am walking, which is moderate at best.

Climbing the hills, which is far more aerobic than walking on the flats, and listening to the mixture of Stones and Dylan tunes gets my neurons going and allows me to stop worrying about technology and all else that ails me. When I finish the hike, I feel motivated to clean up the office, to have a discussion with my appliances, and most of all, to read the newspapers, another sign that my mental health is improving.