The headphone jack — in case you think I’m being overfamiliar and calling you jack, jack — is the bit on the end of your headphones. It measures 3.5mm in diameter. According to the story, if Apple can make a thinner jack then they can make a thinner iPhone. Apple have always dreamed of a thinner iPhone since the late Steve Jobs memorably challenged designers to make a Phone so thin you’d mistake it for an After Eight mint and eat it. (You may not be able to find any evidence he did say this but you also can’t prove he didn’t. It’s called a Trump-ism.)
The story of the jack hitting the road will be one of many rumours about Apple products. This one may be nothing more than noise but the way the story gained legs around the world was less due to its likelihood but more, I think, because it appealed to a vague fear we all have our vague fears about the future: Obsolescence.
Most of us have at least one Box of Stuff. It contains one table tennis bat, a broken Rubik’s cube, an old 20p coin and a floppy disk, its label written in faded marker: ‘miscellaneous stuff’. For younger readers, imagine a computer storage device that only has enough memory to store one photograph and is the size of an actual photograph. The last floppy disk drive you had tragically developed a broken spring in 2005 while ‘formatting’. No-one is making them any more. Maybe the FBI have one. The information is trapped on the disk forever. It’s unlikely there’s anything momentous on it – probably just ‘housebud.xls’, the one time you tried to do a household budget after seeing them talking about it on Open House with Marty Whelan and Mary Kennedy. But still, it’s lost.
Elsewhere in the box is a BASF blank tape with “Electric Eddie chart show Nov 93” written on it. You may still even have one tape player but if that breaks, well, that music — and, more importantly, a 20-year-old ad for Brown Thomas, Cash’s Todds, and Moons of Galway — will never be played again.
Life is full of things that we store things on and connect things with that we grow a dependence on.
The changing of the size of the headphone jack is a big deal. Headphones are one of those things that have made the leap to ‘yoke’. When a piece of technology becomes a ‘yoke’ that means everyone is using it. Remote controls, mobile phones, grey plastic key fobs for getting into work.
The headphone is a form of technology used by everyone from the hacker trying to steal the Pentagon’s secrets for the NUKABOMB to the 90-year-old listening out for a request played on the Ronan Collins show.
Occasionally the pattern of obsolescence is reversed or stalled. For example in 2014, more than 1.3 million vinyl records were sold — the first time sales exceeded 1 million in 20 years.
But that’s an aberration. And most of the new vinyl record-buyers will grow out of it when they have toddlers and come home one day to find Astral Weeks ‘remastered’ into a child’s toy.
No, it’s inevitable. Everything technical you depend on will one day go, and you’ll be stuck.
So my advice? For all your yokes, get another one, and the bit that connects it to the other yoke, get one of those as well. Put them in a box and bury them with a shovel.
But maybe buy a spare shovel. In case they stop making them.