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Just a Thought - iPod Etiquette

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- February 2nd, 2006

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

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During a conversation at work a friend of mine, I shall call her DeeDee, mentioned a situation she was involved in while on a recent flight.

She was chilling with her iPod, getting into her music, oblivious to the world around her, when the person seated next to her started up a conversation. DeeDee said that despite her obvious attempts at minimizing the conversation, this person would not take the hint and leave alone to listen to her jams.

"You weren't short with this person," I asked her.

"Oh, no! I just didn't volunteer much information and didn't ask any questions."

"This person didn't look seedy, smell, or have something hanging from her nose, did she?"

"No," she replied. "I guess she was OK, she just wanted to talk, and I just wanted to listen to my iPod."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Are we becoming a nation of isolationists, our borders demarcated by thin white cables dangling from our ears? Should headsets and a blank stare be taken as a 'Do Not Disturb' sign?  

Incredulously, I asked, "You mean you blew off an opportunity to meet someone just to listen to a song you could listen to anytime?"

"I was tired," DeeDee said defensively. "I just wanted to relax and listen to music, but the woman wouldn't stop talking to me."

I don't know, maybe it's the Polly-Anna in me, but I believe one should never ignore an opportunity to meet someone. You never know where that chance meeting might lead.

True, the other person could be an axe murderer, a disguised extraterrestrial on a recon mission, a future Enron-esque executive, or your future (in)significant other, but, with the possible exception of the axe murderer and his ilk, each person brings to the table a past worthy of at least a few minutes of your time.  You should not hide behind the door, or in this case, headsets, when Karma comes a-knocking.

As it was, I gave DeeDee a healthy ration of friendly chiding about her poor iPod etiquette, then it occurred to me that I too might be guilty of socializing poorly while iPodding.

When I close up shop to head home in the afternoon I jam earplugs into my ears and fire up my nano. I may nod  and smile at those who offer greetings as I pass them in the halls, but I seldom stop to socialize as I did B.i. (Before iPod).

Since this realization I try to make it a habit to actually look at folks as I pass them, if they seem to want to talk I will remove my headsets, even if the conversation is no more than an extended greeting.

iPod etiquette, it seems, is quickly becoming an issue with a lot of folks; someone should write a book. I'm not the person for the job; I can still be caught chewing with my mouth open, but there certainly seems to be a lot of folks talking about it.

Google "iPod etiquette" and you'll see links aplenty pointing to stories of iPod faux pas and what one should do in certain situations. Leander Kahney also covers iPod etiquette in his book, Cult of iPod.

The Miami Herald, for instance, posted a story late last year about iPod socialization (or the lack thereof) in the workplace.  The article said:

"Etiquette in the workplace is all about respect for someone else and common sense,'' said Dale Chapman Webb, a founder of The Protocol Centre, a business-etiquette consulting firm in Coral Gables. "Common sense dictates that you should not cut yourself off from the world.''

Yeah, but common sense can sometimes be overridden by a smokin' guitar solo.

Of course, there are at least two sides to every story: When I told my daughter about DeeDee's incident she completely commiserated with DeeDee.

"I was out by the lake a while back," she told me, "I was drawing and listening to music: I was in my zone. Most people understood that I didn't want to be disturbed and only smiled or gave me a thumb-up opinion of my drawing, but this one guy just didn't take the hint. He kept asking questions about this and that until, finally, I told him that I was trying to finish my drawing. He said, "Oh, OK, you want me to leave?"

"I said yes, but the guy just laughed and continued talking. What a socially inept Neanderthal!"

I suppose she has a point.

If I see that you're in the iPod Zone I will only disturb you if there is something really important you should know, like if you're at the head of the line and the next teller is available, or if your hair is on fire. I think both are acceptable reasons for interrupting your groove.

So, there are dos and don'ts for both the iPodder and everyone else.

For the record, these are my major iPod rules of the road:

  •  Eyeball the other guy; if he's looking at you and his lips are moving you can be reasonably sure he's not lip syncing; he's talking to you. Take off the headsets and respond. You can always replay the song, and nodding and smiling can get you into trouble. (This is especially true if the guy is twice you size and seems to be angry.)
  •  If you are standing in line, pay attention. ( Your hair may be on fire.)  
  •  Never listen to a quiet passage with your eyes closed while driving.
  •  Dancing like they do in the iPod commercials is only recommended if you can dance.
  •  Unless you do so for a living, singing along with your favorite song should be avoided in crowded places (unless you are William Shatner, then you should avoid singing in any venue).
  •  If you must sing, learn the words.
Beyond that, what should you do when you are tuned in while you are out and about? My advice: Play it by ear (pun intended). Your mom likely did a reasonable job in teaching you social manners, adding an iPod only means that you need to be more aware, is all.

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