A social distortion

Alicia Warden

It has been a busy month for Apple Inc. On Sept. 5, tempers flared over the price cut on the new iPhone, and the company also released a revamped iPod Nano, the new iPod Touch and the new iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store.

Debuting in 2001, iPods have had a short tenure on the market. But a quick look around Iowa State’s campus reveals that consumers have welcomed the gadget.

Observing people on campus, it often seems that when people put in their earbuds, they become oblivious to the world around them.

“In my personal opinion, constitutional issues aside, iPods should be banned on campus,” said Kim Smith, professor of journalism and communication.

Before anyone stages a protest, Smith has a valid reason behind his statement. An iPod owner himself, Smith frequently listens to music while running on a track or at the Rec. Smith said that while the iPod technology itself is not evil, it is the misuse of the technology that causes problems.

“When you walk around campus listening to music on your MP3 player, you’re cutting yourself off from other people,” Smith said. “That may not be the intention, but that’s the message people send.”

Other professors on campus echo Smith’s concern.

“It allows a person to be physically present, but mentally somewhere else,” said Cornelia Flora, distinguished professor of sociology.

Hamilton Cravens, professor of history, teaches courses on the history of technology and of social and behavioral sciences. He said since World War II, technology has become increasingly personal, citing Blackberrys and cell phones as examples. This technology has put more emphasis on individual, intimate communication, he said.

“In a very real sense, we are isolating ourselves,” Cravens said.

Smith said media are becoming more individualized and the result of this is interpersonal isolation.

Some students are aware of the isolation iPods can bring, but prefer to think of it as solitude.

Sara Sickelka, sophomore in liberal arts and sciences-open option, said she listens to her iPod on the bus as she rides to and from campus.

“It’s a good way to show that you’re not interested in conversation,” Sickelka said. But she added that the iPod user has the ability to convey the message they want, which may vary from day to day.

“You can choose days that you feel like being social and days that you don’t,” Sickelka said.

But the art of conversation and social interaction has not been completely lost. Bob Ketch, junior in physics, uses his iPod at least once a day, but does not always listen to it while walking on campus. He said the decision to listen to his iPod depends upon whether he is walking with friends or is alone.

“Sometimes conversation can be a little more stimulating,” Ketch said. He is not opposed to using his iPod to tune out distractions.

Ketch said at home, if one of his roommates is doing something distracting, like playing “Guitar Hero,” he will turn on his iPod to tune out the disturbance.

The iPod has come to signify not just a method of listening to music, but a social message we send to those around us as it engraves itself into our culture, which is something to think about the next time you pop in your earbuds and turn on your tunes.