I am now two weeks into my experiment to avoid using my iPod outdoors. So I thought I would provide an update at the midway point.
The first day went really well. It felt really odd at first, and it still does feel odd to leave the office for my lunchtime walk without my iPod even in my pocket.
However, straight away, I felt good about not listening to my iPod. I found that I was having short conversations with people, even across the road on one particularly quiet street. It’s exactly what I hoped would happen.
These conversations never have taken place if I was listening to my iPod, even if I may have waved and said “hi”. I’m not a big fan of small talk. And it hasn’t happened all that often. But it put a spring in my step to have engaged with someone, rather than listening to ones and zeros.
I have also ended up giving directions to people a couple of times, which I am happy to do. It makes me feel like a better citizen.
These encounters are few and far between though. So how about the times when I’m left to my own devices?
Taking in the world
While it still feels a bit odd to set off on a walk without listening to a podcast, I have normally found that once I get going I don’t miss it at all. Moreover, I have found myself discovering things about St Andrews in particular that I hadn’t noticed before.
Following my original post, a friend left this comment on Facebook:
I find myself looking around more when I have earphones in, because obviously you’re neutralising one of your senses, so the only other way to be aware of your surroundings is to look. You maybe aren’t missing as much as you think. Either that or you just aren’t looking!
While you may wonder how many interesting sounds you’ve missed, how many interesting things have you now seen in an otherwise normal day as a result of not being turned off by natural sounds?
This was something that I had considered. I am conscious that when I’m listening to my iPod, I need to keep my eyes open more in case I don’t hear traffic coming, or some other normally-audible danger. But I view this as a negative thing. I’m not looking at buildings or nature — I’m looking for cars coming.
Even so, I was surprised to find myself noticing things about St Andrews that I hadn’t seen before. Streets that I have walked down dozens and dozens of times held new discoveries. Some of these were triggered by something I heard. Others were, I suspect, as a result of me looking around more rather than just scanning for danger or looking towards the pavement.
A couple of weak moments
However, I have to confess to having failed in my experiment twice so far. I have listened to my iPod outdoors on two separate occasions.
One of those occasions was when I was feeling a bit down, and I felt like I needed to listen to music to help me along. However, even in this instance, I was careful to select a quiet part of town to walk in, so that I would not feel bad about using my iPod in the presence of other people. I only put in my earphones when I left the busy street, and I took them out again before I rejoined the centre of town.
The other time was when I had to catch an early train for my trip to London last weekend. I walked to the train station, which takes me about half an hour. I had to leave my flat at 5.30am, having had comparatively little sleep.
It seemed silly to face the prospect of walking for half an hour in the pitch black, the freezing cold, and deny myself the small pleasure of listening to music to keep me occupied. Especially since there were hardly any people around, it seemed like an acceptable exception.
I quite quickly concluded that a dogmatic approach towards using the iPod outdoors is too draconian. Everything in moderation, and all that.
I am now quite sure that I would usually prefer not to use my iPod outdoors. But I don’t see any reason why I should avoid it at all costs. Sometimes it is nice to listen to my iPod; sometimes not. It depends on when it is, where I am, and what mood I’m in. Which I guess is the sensible conclusion most people have already reached anyway.
However, I will continue with my experiment until the end of February as originally promised. I will try to avoid any more slip-ups.