I take only the necessities on my walk to campus: warm clothes, books and my iPod. Like many students, I plug in my headphones as habitually as I tie my boots. Making the 20-minute walk without music seems just as preposterous as going barefoot.
But by flooding my ears with artificial sound, I am missing what’s really happening. By drowning out car horns, I am posing a threat to traffic. And by preoccupying myself with music, I am passively declining conversation. My familiar morning soundtrack streams through my headphones and drowns out whatever sounds might fill the morning air.
It takes five senses to know a place. When people can’t hear the world around them, they aren’t fully there. The term “iPod zombie” describes a person with his or her headphones on who is clueless to his or her surroundings. We zombies isolate ourselves from others and put ourselves in actual danger.
People walking around with music blasting in their ears are much more likely to be involved in a traffic accident. I know this from experience. Earlier this year I was walking home from school to a beat from my iTunes when I strutted into the hood of a passing car. I wasn’t hurt, but I felt like an idiot. Playing my iPod while walking to and from campus has become a thoughtless reflex. Students like me should leave their music player at home and enjoy the audible world around them.
I’m not saying you’ll hear a songbird chorus and the sounds of the wilderness on your walk down Cleveland Avenue. Your newly rediscovered sense of sound will be filled with engine sputters and the hum of I-94. Although city noises may not always be beautiful, they are important to be aware of.
I’m not the only person to see the danger. Crossing the street using an iPod and headphones is risky, but it’s common enough that New York Senator Carl Kruger proposed legislation to make it illegal. Kruger said “tuning in and out can be a fatal combination on the streets” of New York, but it can also be fatal here in Minnesota. The legislation wasn’t passed, but its message should be taken seriously.
Safety isn’t the only issue. iPods change the way we interact. St. Thomas freshman Alec Johnson agreed.
“We walk through our college campus with our headphones blaring trying to avoid the awkward ‘Oh, hey’ moment,” he said. “What happened to the handshake? What happened to the face-to-face conversation?”
Others share Johnson’s opinion. In the article “The iPod: Development or Digestion?” philosopher Ben Byrne said, “With the iPod we are able to remain in a state of passive reception wherever we go.” Byrne said many people choose this state over interacting with others or even allowing time for private thoughts.
So take a break from that strange rocker screaming in your ear. Allow yourself a quiet moment to think, to hear what’s going on around campus and to notice the world outside your ear buds.
Alex Keil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.