Ipods have been in existence for 9 years this October, and I have never owned one. I crave portable music more than most things (I would honestly prefer it to a year’s supply of free food or cigarettes), and even dream about it (I dreamt I received a text message informing me that a friend had left an iPod for me under my bed, and when I woke up I thought it was real, until I couldn’t find the text message in my inbox), but I do without. I walk everywhere without driving bass lines and crashing drums getting all up in my ear canals, too aware of the world I’m walking through, left with only my limited imagination and the familiar streets and walls to draw inspiration from as I walk to work or party or sip my first wake up coffee.
If I were to own an iPod, or anything similar, I would probably enjoy travelling from place to place much more than I currently do. When I borrow my house-mate’s iPod, I can bliss out and stalk through the back streets of Collingwood, ignoring everything and everyone, lost in the little film going on in my head, bashing my legs with my fists in time with whichever instrument I can keep in time with the best. I feel better about any given situation I’ve just come from and am now walking to, just so long as I have that one song, or that one album, to change perspective slightly. Good lord, I love a good perspective change.
But with this disconnection from audio stimulus outside the headphones, comes some pretty heavy risks. Approximately 20 people a year die as a result of listening to music too loud as they walk/ride/drive. Sure, that’s fuck all compared to diseases and SIDS and all of that, but it is, none the less, something to take note of. One guy was crushed by a small plane doing an emergency landing on a beach as he was jogging and listening to his iPod. He didn’t hear the screams of his fellow beach goers, nor the screams of the failing engine. A whole bunch of teenagers have died as a result of not paying attention while crossing the road or train tracks, listening to their rad tunes so loudly that it blocks out all other noise. There was even one instance of a Submarine in the US Navy that crashed into another one, because the sound system the crew had hooked up to play their iPods was playing too loudly, and every one was too distracted by what I imagine was probably a Bruce Springsteen track to notice the blips of the radar. No one died, but it caused 60 million dollars worth of damage. But fuck, they probably had a great time in the minutes leading up to it.
While portable music has been around since the 70’s, the death rate associated with these devices has increased massively since the popularisation of the iPod. Not only are the headphones we use far more efficient at blocking out outside sounds, but the attitude surrounding portable music has changed dramatically.
What once could have simply been a way to appreciate the new Bowie or Dylan album as one walked to their summer fling’s house, for example, and all the glory that lay within the new sounds and the paradigm shifting lyrics, hyped up on teenage hormones and the thrill of a joint to come (can you tell I watch a lot of movies?), has, in 30 years, become a distraction mechanism, listening not necessarily to the music, but to have background noise, a soundtrack to your daily activities. Noise to distract you from the billboards on every corner, notes to remind you of when you were younger, lyrics that bring to mind people who have come and gone, all of it. In a world now saturated with emotionally charged stimulus, we find ourselves compelled to design our own emotions, or, at the very least, give them validation.
So with a western world full of humans carrying around a device that fuels their emotional landscape, or distracts from it, or whatever- in a society that encourages this personal outlet over connection with your immediate environment- it makes sense that we’re going to pay the price for this selfish individualism eventually. A dramatic statement, yes, but a valid one. This doesn’t make me crave an iPod any less. In fact, it makes me crave one more. If I could just listen to Thom Yorke wailing all abstract-like about humans and technology and emotional disconnection, or if I could indulge in sludgy guitar/bass riffs that make me feel okay about my discontentment with the reality I see around me, or even just hear a few minutes of crazy psychedelic meanderings that chill me the fuck out and bring hope that we’re all working towards something intelligent and healthy… I’d feel a little bit more sane, a little bit more connected to my fellow human. And if I was to get hit by a car, I’d prefer it to be to the song of my choice, rather than the sounds of other cars rushing past.