IPod Noise Pollution Irks Those Nearby

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 31, 2007; 11:00 PM

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, officemates 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 the classic loud cell phone 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 into another car altogether. (True story.)

"I've heard that problem quite a lot, people singing along," said Leander Kahney, managing editor of Wired magazine's Web site. "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."

That kind of behavior _ an ignorance by the user of volume levels and surroundings _ is more odious than the low buzz of the iPod, Kahney said.

"Did anyone ever complain about the noise coming from a Walkman or a CD player?" he said. "Unless you're in a quiet environment, you're really gonna have to strain to hear any kind of noise from somebody else's iPod."

Our world, he said, has become freakishly quiet. "It's not noise pollution _ it's noise absence. And I find it almost more disturbing and upsetting than I did loud noise. It's sort of unnatural."

But in places and spaces where silence is golden _ planes, trains and office cubicles, for example _ even slightest thump-thump-thump of bass can feel like a violation.

And then there's the impromptu karaoke problem. Kahney said a colleague at Wired, which covers technology and how it affects culture, has a bad habit of crooning to his playlist at work.

Any Celine Dion in the mix? "Oh no, he listens to these dreadful old hippie songs," he said. "You know, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Allman Brothers."

All is forgiven after a friendly tap on the shoulder, Kahney said. A less confrontational approach may in order, though, when someone refuses to cooperate.

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