Adam Conner: iSolated: iPods and an alternate reality

A few weeks ago, tragedy struck when I turned on my 20-GB iPod and was greeted by a frowning iPod with little x’s for eyes – an icon I didn’t even know the iPod was capable of displaying. It was readily apparent that it meant my beloved iPod was in need of repair. Having traveled down this road several times before, I dutifully called up Apple, thanked God again for the extended warranty I had purchased and shipped off the dysfunctional white package to the service center.

Luckily, I was well-prepared for this contingency and opened my desk drawer to retrieve my other iPod, an old-school 10-GB model from my freshman year. The older model recalled a time when white earbuds hadn’t been so common and when CD players with anti-skip protection roamed the Earth. And so, my life resumed its normal, rocking course, albeit with 2,500 fewer songs at my disposal.

Then, the unthinkable happened. My second iPod died. It just stopped working. It didn’t even have the decency to die with a frowning face icon.

Without warning, I was forced to experience the world unfiltered, as nature had intended, without the protective filter of my loving white headphones. I was all alone, defenseless and totally at the mercy of the sounds around me. The experience was jarring, to say the least.

With all this free time on my hands and absolutely nothing to distract me, I got to thinking about how the iPod had changed my interaction with the world. Today’s iPod is a marvelous invention, a constant companion that serves as a soundtrack to my life, but it was unquestionably designed to be an isolator. And while there’s no doubt that sometimes we need a first-rate people-avoider, there are dangers in living in a world contained entirely in that all-white package.

This isn’t a column about the physical dangers of iPods that seem to have gathered so much press attention lately; anyone who doesn’t recognize the danger in constantly putting loud noise centimeters away from your eardrums probably deserves what hearing loss they have coming.

The iPod seems to be merely the first step to a world of total individual technological isolation and is a double-edged sword that should give us pause. The iPod is designed to isolate ourselves from the world around us and it does it well, allowing us to create a world set entirely to a soundtrack of our choosing. As a result, fundamental human interactions are altered when you’re listening to an iPod. Friends are no longer greeted verbally, but merely with the nod of the head, if at all. Eye contact with anyone, friends or strangers is fast becoming a forgotten memory. The iPod and its siblings may slowly be robbing us of the basic minimal contact necessary to maintain a civil society.

A few weeks back, deprived of my beloved iPods and desperate to break up the endless monotony of my walks around campus, I spotted a friend strolling ahead of me toward the Metro. My attempts to secure his attention eventually escalated to the point where I was shouting his name on the sidewalk like a lunatic … but to no avail. No matter how loud I shouted I couldn’t penetrate his iBubble. It was then that I realized I really was all alone, because while everyone else around me was adrift in their own world of playlists and shuffled songs, without my iPod I was just stuck in the world full of crazy people yelling on the sidewalk (me).

With the increasing convergence of technology it is only a matter of time before all your other technology acronyms from DVD to N64 are combined into one portable device. We’re fast on- pace to ending up in a place where the world around us becomes absolutely and totally irrelevant, because the only thing that will matter will be whatever is coming from the small screens in front of us and the headphones on our ears.

When I was finally reunited with my repaired iPod, my joy was tempered by the experience of the 10 days without it. Now I sometimes leave one of my headphones off, to keep one foot in the world that isn’t controlled by a clickwheel, and remind myself of the world outside my white earplugs.

-The writer, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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