iPod Etiquette for the Urban Dweller: Two Easy Rules

People, we need to discuss iPod etiquette for a few minutes.

Ahead of me in queue at the drug store today was a cubicle-style thirtysomething drone sporting a blue dress shirt, iron-free pants, and white ear buds connected to the iPod nano attached to his belt. Whatever he was listening to – old Dave Matthews would be my guess – he left both ear buds in his ears while engaging in a complete retail transaction. I watched as the clerk greeted him and he said nothing in reply, just swiping his debit card, taking his bag, and not even nodding.

About ten minutes later, I copped a seat on a downtown train next to a girl engrossed in her iPod. She graciously decided that I, and the other nearby passengers, should be treated to the extra sounds that spilled forth from her loud iPod: an unrecognizable rap song, something by the Killers, and finally a dreadfully annoying track called “London Bridge.” I assure you that, had the real bridge been nearby, I would’ve contemplated snatching her iPod and tossing it into the Thames.

These indiscretions are daily occurrences here in Chicago, where, as in other cities, people drown themselves in technology like the iPod as a way of avoiding human interaction and building a self-prescribed bubble. While the sheer population density can cause an urban dweller to seek makeshift solitude in public spaces, the breaches of good behavior above are a sad sign.

A little iPod etiquette would go a long way if only city folk followed these two easy rules:

iPod Etiquette for the Urban Dweller: Rule 1
When you are about to interact with someone, even for the ten seconds it takes to buy a soda, take the ear buds out of your ears. It’s not enough to turn the sound down or just nod at someone dismissively. Another human being is engaging you, and even if it’s just a trite “hello,” they deserve some kind of clear acknowledgment. Treating a cashier (or a bus driver, library assistant, video clerk, gym attendant, etc.) like they don’t exist is pretty rude, particularly when they are providing you with a service. Every iPod has a pause button, and all ear buds can easily be reinserted immediately after a transaction. Besides the iPod etiquette issue, there’s also the possibility that the person may need to tell you something important, like “Girls Gone Wild 69 1/2” is due back by Friday at midnight.”

iPod Etiquette for the Urban Dweller: Rule 2
Be aware of the volume of your iPod, particularly when on public transportation, in a store, or anywhere else where others might have to deal with your “earspill.” This is especially a problem on trains and buses, because iPod users often turn up their music to drown out the intermittent noise, like screeching subway car wheels. Whatever the reason you have the volume turned up, be sure it’s not audible to those around you. Being conscious of your impact on other people constitutes good manners in public spaces, and making sure that your music doesn’t bother your fellow citizens is on par with making sure you shower. If you’re unsure about the noise level, do an iPod etiquette check by removing the ear buds and covering them gently with your thumbs. You should barely be able to hear the music.

Most (through probably not all) of the iPod rudeness comes from failure to abide by these rules. So, take out the ear buds when you interact with people, and turn down the volume when you’re near people. Those are my two main rules of iPod etiquette for the urban dweller. If you have other suggestions, please add a comment.

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