Monday, February 28, 2005

Considering iPod Isolation, and Solutions 

Check out Andrew Sullivan on iPods

What do we get from this? The awareness of more music, more often. The chance to slip away for a while from everydayness, to give our lives our own sound-track, to still the monotony of the commute, to listen more closely and carefully to music that can lift you up and keep you going. We become masters of our own interests, more connected to people like us over the Internet, more instantly in touch with anything we want or need or think we want and think we need. Ever tried a stairmaster in silence? And why not listen to a Hayden trio while in line at Tesco?

But what are we missing? That hilarious shard of an over-heard conversation that stays with you all day; the child whose chatter on the sidewalk takes you back to your own early memories; birdsong; weather; accents; the laughter of others; and those thoughts that come not by filling your head with selected diversion, but by allowing your mind to wander aimlessly through the regular background noise of human and mechanical life. External stimulation can crowd out the interior mind. Even the boredom that we flee has its uses. We are forced to find our own means to overcome it. And so we enrich our life from within, rather than from the static of white wires.

His is the second column I've seen now on the insulating effect of iPods (can't remember the first). I have mixed feelings about these complaints. First of all, I appreciate what they point out, and realize they are right, something does stand to be lost if the iPods are used as they describe. I should point out though, that I don't have much familiarity with them: where I live, few use them, and despite my love of music, and the fact that I listen to it a lot on my computer, I myself don't own a pod.

Nevertheless, to dive in with my take on the situtation, it brings out the engineer in me who sees in every problem, an opportunity. The problem of audio isolation brings to mind something I read recently at MSNBC about a strange kind of ear phones in cutting-edge Japanese cell phones:

To wit, it's hard to imagine Americans jumping to buy a product like Sanyo's Sonic Speaker phone. Available only in Japan, the TS41 conveys sound to its user not by emitting audible waves but by sending vibrations to the cochlea through the bones of the ear. Whoa. The supposed advantage of this system is that the phone can be "heard" in the loudest of places, like the cacophonous floor of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

So there are earphones coming out that don't plug or cover your ears, but instead just make contact with your cheek or jaw, and through vibrations, transmit the sound directly to your ear. Cool, but I can see why they would assume Americans wouldn't care.

But wait.

Consider this: the movie soundtrack referred to by Andrew Sullivan never drowns out the dialog (although sometimes it might be better if it did). Why not complete the metaphor. The music of the iPod, with the use of these "bone phones" could become the background music of your life. Maybe Americans would jump to buy that product, if it were hooked up to the right audio source, marketed right

Anyone named Jobs in the house?
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