In your ear: the ticking iPod time bomb

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
November 26, 2010 /

Click here to view original /

Mid-2006 and I was in an electronics store in downtown Los Angeles.

It’s not like I think Sliding Doors was a very good movie – after all, it had Gwyneth Paltrow in it – but standing at that counter, I was convinced it was a life-changing-on-a-dime moment. Credit card in one hand, boxed iPod in the other and a sudden gut grab dictated cease and desist.

I wish I could divulge a tale of consumer guilt. Weave some story about being suddenly so affected by a for-only-one-dollar-a-day TV ad, thoughts of orphan slaves in slack-lawed lands or the sight of a poverty-stricken Angeleno with a shopping trolley. Nup. Think less bleeding-heart and more neurosis.

I don’t convey great calm, bestow great wisdom, have great legs or fabulous breasts. I don’t ooze compassion. I’m a story teller, that’s my thing. To the proverbial table – to relationships – I bring anecdotes. And in that electronics store I had an epiphany: an iPod would ruin everything.

When it comes to social interaction, I’ve got a bit of a Mohammed-to-the-mountain mentality. Not arrogance, I’m just a little like those manic depressive comedians: comfortable fronting a crowd, significantly less so in one. Boxed iPod in hand and I was convinced that the crazies would stop talking to me. That I’d no longer hear bizarre stories in bank queues. That strangers would stop seeking my counsel about their sexual hijinks. That my raconteur days were over.

Truth be told, I’m not all that interested in “community” in the sketchy street party, barbeque-y, shared-raising-of-children, knowing-each-others’-business kind of way. I live in a poky city apartment and quite like that no-one uninvited knocks on my door for sugar. I have however, wondered whether a penchant for privacy explains the princely proportion of people wearing earphones.

Ample academic chit-chat circulates about the impact of social media. Much claims that our lives apparently no longer feel real to us unless we constantly document it on Facebook. Personally I consider the enormity of social media as overstated, but quite obviously we have – voluntarily – made our lives more public. And I wonder whether earphones are our way to reclaim a little privacy when in public.

I’m making observations here rather lamentations, of course. I actually have great faith that humans can organise to reach out and touch someone if they want to. But I’m intrigued nonetheless.

While my fears were about the iPod sullying my shtick, the scientists have documented real MP3 player maladies. Obviously – naively – I assumed the true harms involved accidently/deliberately playing the Eels’ ‘Flower’, Bruce’s ‘Thunder Road’ or anything by Mazzy Star and rolling weepily into the foetal position. But that’s just me, apparently. Listen to the white coats and iPod’s really are a ticking time bomb.

iPod finger. Years ago when I started teaching, one of my students – a kid in his late teens – wanted an extension. Came in with his right wrist wrapped and claimed carpal tunnel syndrome. Overuse, he’d said. His face was straight, mine a slight tilt and smirk. iPod finger sounds equally dodgy. But then I’m the cynic.

According to one doctor there’s danger in using “the same finger in a repetitive motion”. Evidently, much like its sister syndromes of Blackberry Thumb, Nintendinitis or the terrifically titled Teen Texting Tendonitis, apparently if you use any one digit too much it might cause pain. Who would have thought?

iPod deafness. One of the great loves of my life claimed that the Hoodoo Gurus ruined his hearing. I’d put it down to histrionics and hypochondria, alas, the scientists think he might have been right. Loud music – particularly when pumped directly into our ear drums – might end in tears. Much like that relationship really.

While I assume “deafness” describes a more permanent ailment, iPod’s in fact also aid in “selective deafness” of the kind my grandmothers dabble in to justify ignoring us. Turning the music up to eleven and you get the sweet illusion of deafness. Cue iPod oblivion.

Describing the “zombie-like” state entered into when using an MP3 player, iPod oblivion documents a tragic affliction plaguing motorists, joggers and the cheesily named “podestrians”. I’m actually quite convinced.

I don’t drive. Never have. Back in year 10 we did an L-Plate test in class. A guy I was too fond of spent the time singing the theme from the Golden Girls in my ear. I failed. My attention span is embarrassing; add lyrics and it’s dire.

In April, Hole’s “Pacific Coast Highway” put me into numerous trances that on one occasion involved me tapping out a beat on the satchel resting on my hip. Tapping the handbag, tapping my phone’s address book and evidently calling one person who really shouldn’t have been party to any Courtney Love episode. iPod oblivion.

I did end up buying an iPod, of course. Maybe six months after my perfectly characteristic LA wig out. My epiphanies are only ever fleeting, after all. 8,072 songs later and the kooks still touch my hair and still tell me their sins, earphones or no earphones.

© Lauren Rosewarne