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Noisy iPods are the new pollutant

August 06, 2007|Erin Carlson | Associated Press

NEW YORK — Dave Legeret silently fumed as the man seated beside him on the plane blasted techno music on his iPod at full volume.

"It was kind of rude," recalled Legeret, 38, a jewelry designer from Sandy Hook, Conn., who was forced to listen while flying from New York City to Disney World with his wife and 8-year-old son. "Listen to it at a level that just you can hear it and everyone else doesn't have to be subject to it."

Apple Inc.'s ubiquitous iPod is best known as an instrument of solitude -- unless the user ignores standards of etiquette by invading the eardrums of fellow commuters, office mates or other innocent bystanders. Then it starts to get annoying. Especially when you're stuck in close proximity.

Amped to its highest volume, the iPod is not nearly as invasive as the loud cellphone conversation. But it can have its moments. Like when you're standing in an elevator at 9 a.m. and a co-worker cranks up Amy Winehouse's "Rehab." (Too early for that song.) Or when an ear-budded subway rider belts what sounds like a Whitney Houston tune with careless abandon, causing other riders to inch away or flee altogether. (True story.)

"I've heard that problem quite a lot, people singing along," said Leander Kahney, managing editor of Wired magazine's website. "And, of course, my kids -- when they have the iPod in, they shout. They don't realize with the headphones they're being too loud, so they'll conduct conversations without taking their ear buds out. And they're yelling."

Anna Post, an etiquette instructor at the Emily Post Institute, said she heard a story about a woman who asked an iPod-using subway rider to turn down the volume, only to have her request ignored. So she used another tactic: singing along.

"And, all of a sudden, boy, did that iPod get shut off," said Post, who stressed that "a little social shame can go a long way."

Like the cellphone, the iPod and other music players can foster a sense of apathy when the user is among strangers. It's easier to blow off social norms -- and channel Justin Timberlake during rush hour -- when you don't know the people you're irritating.

"Sometimes people can feel a little anonymous in public," Post said. "Like, 'Oh. You know what? I didn't hear you. I didn't make eye contact with you. I can just ignore you and pretend like I'm not a bad person for doing this.' "

Of course, many iPod noise polluters should be given the benefit of the doubt. They might be unaware that the volume is up so high. Or they may be hard of hearing (probably because they listen to such loud music).

If the noise is bothersome, Post said it's OK to speak up because most people would be hard pressed not to listen. If you don't, just "grin and bear it and let it go and just be the bigger person," she advised.

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