Stamatakis: iPods diminish alertness, increase antisocial behavior

By Nick Stamatakis

You might be reading this in a hurry between classes, stressed out about how crazy your life is…. You might be reading this in a hurry between classes, stressed out about how crazy your life is. Trust me, I understand how unfair it is that some professors take attendance.

But I hope that you’re not walking around with your nose inches from the newsprint, absorbed in your own special world because you need some “me time.” First of all, stressed power walking is not the best way to enjoy an esteemed college newspaper. Secondly, and more importantly, our generation already has an outlet for narcissism and the need to get away: the iPod.

This column might be coming out about 10 years after it was first relevant, but considering that my music tastes are about 40 years behind and I missed my chance to voice my opinions then, I can’t be one to care about these kinds of things. I will admit, at the very least, that it’s passe to talk about how technology is destroying America’s youth.

But as someone who has recently forsaken the ways of the iPod — mainly because I lost mine running to catch a plane — I can’t help but look at those of us who continue to walk around campus with earbuds trailing from our ears with increasing disgust.

I’m not talking about the student walking back into South Oakland after a long day, or the bus passenger riding in from Squirrel Hill in the morning. These private periods are when we reflect and plan anyway, and thinking to the soundtrack from “Mulan” or that song from “The Hills” isn’t damaging to anybody. Rather, it’s the hurried iPod listeners that are troublesome — the people who need to throw them on in the 10-minute frantic spurts around campus or while walking down Forbes. Unless I’m mistaken, we aren’t in a war; I don’t think our classes are so stressful that we have no choice but to decompress every 10 minutes.

Furthermore, from a public health perspective, wearing an iPod when there’s a possibility of getting hit by a rogue PAT bus, cyclist or squirrel seems irresponsible. There are dozens of anecdotal stories on the Internet about people colliding with things because they weren’t paying attention. If you had asked those people if anything bad could ever happen to them before their accidents, I’m sure they would say no.

Of course, in most cases, nothing bad will happen. The caveman brain that controls our instinctive reflexes can function with the eyes alone. But for the fast reactions that save lives and prevent injuries — like the quick dodge to get out of the way of a bus or bike — it’s better to hear something. Auditory stimuli are easier for the brain to process than visual stimuli, and are thus better warnings than the glimpse of a bike in your peripheral vision.

Maybe you don’t care about your health. Like all college students, I, too, know that nothing bad can ever happen to me. But think about this from a social perspective — think about all the awkward incidents iPods cause.

It’s happened to all of us: You see a friend — or rather, a supposed friend — and wave, expecting a friendly reciprocation. But there isn’t any, for this friend of yours is wearing an iPod, one that you might not have seen.

Questions seize you: Did I just come across as a desperate freak? Does this friend even like me? The social anxiety is palpable.

The net result of all these encounters is that eventually people stop waving at each other. We all collectively decide the warmth of human conversation isn’t worth the potential anxiety of an unrequited wave. Soon, we’ll live in a cold world where coincidental hellos are a thing of the past — if they aren’t already. Just stare at the masses moving through our public places and you can see that I’m not just complaining about nothing. We really do look like the drones our parents told us we would become.

Now, I don’t pretend to be able to define when walking with music is acceptable and when it’s antisocial and potentially damaging. Much like identifying pornography from art, you just know it when you see it.

But until I come up with a scientific definition, the next time you find yourself in a throng of people — be it walking around, in a classroom, or in an elevator — consider taking your headphones out. Try to engage the world around you. Even if you find it gross and disgusting, at least you’ll realize what you’ve been missing.

Also, I guarantee you the rest of the elevator does not want to hear that Miley Cyrus song blaring from your earbuds.