Monday, September 5, 2011

To iPod or Not iPod

Sometimes people stop me in the street and ask "Hey Jaybee, you're really cool, so I wanna do the things you do. What’s your take on the iPod?"

My answer to them is: why would I use an iPod when I can already hear the voices in my head? This is usually sufficient for them, and they walk away in deep thought. But I have to admit that it got me thinking.

Last year, I started taking the train to work again, and I noticed that certain things about the subway got on my nerves(!) My train is elevated for most of the trip, so you can get cell phone reception. So some passengers yak incessantly during the commute. I’m an avid reader (i.e., a person who prefers books to people and real life), so I found myself looking up every minute or so, glaring at these perfectly nice people who I wished were dead. I soon learned to not sit next to two women catching up on old times (i.e. things that had happened since their conversation yesterday).

So I decided to use my cell phone to listen to music. And it was great! What had once been a noisy slog to and from work had now turned into another opportunity to hear whatever music I wanted. Living with three other people can constrain your more extreme inclinations in this area. Now I my ears could roam free.

The high point occurred one cool autumn evening on the commute home. I was tired but happy when this ambient instrumental came on. But for some reason I couldn’t place it. This was weird since all of the music came from my own record collection. Was it Eno? Aphex Twin? It took a full minute to place it. “Treefingers” by Radiohead, from “Kid A”. In that moment I had transcended that inherent limitation of enforced familiarity.

But familiarity was good, too. There were other times when I positively stomped my foot in happiness at what I was hearing. “Crooked” by Wussy. That must have looked strange to the two ladies trying to catch up.

But even so, there was something about all this that made me uncomfortable. I felt separated from the world around me. I don’t work in the best neighborhood, and not knowing what’s going on in the immediate area is not a good practice. Not to mention not being able to hear the Mack trucks that speed through the intersections I cross.

One morning, when I was still driving to work I spotted a ten year old about to cross the street at least a block away from me. There was no light at that corner, but he was going anyway, looking straight ahead. I noticed that he was wearing ear buds, obviously listening to an iPod. I began tapping the horn to get his attention, slowing down all the while, but the kid kept crossing. I kept tapping and slowing down until I came to a complete stop at the corner, where he walked right in front of my car without once glancing over at me or the car.

I always regretted not getting out of the car and yelling at him about what he’d just done. I guess I was afraid I’d end up scaring him, and I scare kids too much already. Plus I was late for work.

This stayed with me. As much as I like the idea of improving my environment by adding what I like best – music – to it. I feel like I’m missing something. While music adds to the environment, iPods take something away, too.

And I’ve had enough close calls with cars and such, that the last thing I ought to be doing is limiting helpful sensory input.
So I’m pro Ipod, but anti earbud.

Moreover, while I detest most of what I hear from passing car radios there is something valuable about hearing other people’s music. It provides us with an opportunity to share something, even if most of the time we just end up in a volume war.

So let’s play our music for each other. If we can avoid being obnoxious about it, we might learn something, instead of just being content in our own little worlds.

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