iPod Sociology


I try to value my time in London. Returning to home from University can feel akin to spiritual rebirth; the getting back in touch with a more ‘real’ world. With more than a little glee, I like to indulge in the city, exploiting it in ways I had been too lax or lazy to bother with during the years I lived here full-time. Consequently, whist home, my perceptions of the city have been altered and heightened, and one of the things for me which has grown from passing observation to sustained inquiry is the change I’ve observed in people’s headphone habits.

Of all the portable trendsetting technological innovations, the iPod stands head-and-shoulders above all other machines who exist as a devoted commodities. Though handheld games consoles are widely used, more so now than ever before, it is almost novel to see one being used in a public setting. Perhaps assumptions WRT the ‘childish’ nature of playing games has limited their public audience somewhat. Also, unlike MP3 players, handheld games consoles demand complete engagement, where both hands are at constant attention. Music holds a universal appeal when placed in comparison, plus the MP3 is happy to sit in a pocket and blast out a playlist at your convenience.

Henceforth, it came as more of a revelation when I realised upon my return to the city how few people had headphones in (or over) their ears. I can vividly remember back to 2005/6 (around the initial boom of iPod’s dominance), seeing everyone with white buds sprouting from their ears. I remember both envying the commuters who could afford the machines (they who weren’t confined to the dumb old silent literature that I had to occupy myself with), and simultaneously resenting them for being selfish enough to dare to distract me with the whirring internal mechanisms that plumbed inevitably bad music to their brain.

Even back then, it was rare to see someone on the underground ever just listening to music. It was typically music and work, or music and the morning paper, or music and their accompanying laptop. Regardless, the music was there. It spanned an enviable age bracket. In school, iPods were justified to me as a ‘cool’ commodity by being an item worth mugging someone for.

Whilst my observations in London are by no means a scientific study, I have found myself trying to hypothesise why people would have stopped using their iPods. Music has not lost its popularity, despite Rebecca Black’s best efforts, and Apple is still experiencing great levels of commercial success. So far, I have come up with four depressingly viable possibilities:

  1. Since the functionality of mobile phones have been combined with MP3 software, people prefer to conserve their battery life for the more important phone based functions
  2. Over the past six to seven years, most MP3 users have exhausted their music tastes and grown sick of the entire content their libraries, never finding the time or finances to clear it out and start afresh with new material.
  3. Since Apple advertises itself as a fashion statement or lifestyle choice, and Apple technology evolves so quickly, people are ashamed to be using older models of their hardware and are reluctant to keep up to date.
  4. The world is more dangerous/people are more afraid of being mugged for their even more expensive machines.

Of course, these hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. I would also remind the reader that these are a geographically located observation and not a broad speculation on the inevitable decline of mobile media. My purpose in writing this article is to provoke your attention, and explore the possibility that this might be a more global phenomenon.

Please comment with your findings!

You should follow Thought Catalog on Twitter here.