Archive: Series: The iPodless experiment «

This is part 1 of 3 in the series The iPodless experiment

iPod earphones jack

I have long struggled with my use of portable music devices. The appeal to listen to audio on the go is strong. It probably started off as a novelty, or as something to keep me occupied on long train journeys.

Back then it was a relatively cumbersome personal CD player. Then MP3 players came and made it easier to listen on the move.

Not just music — podcasts too. Like emails or RSS feeds, podcasts have a tendency to overwhelm you. They oppress as you try to listen to them all. Must… reach… zero.

The habit to listen to things on the move then seeped its way through. Often it feels as if practically every last spare moment is spent listening to something.


Maybe it’s my age. But I am increasingly feeling as though this behaviour is antisocial. I feel aware that I am disconnected from the world around me.

I sail right past people in the street without noticing them, because I am so transfixed by whatever I am listening to. How rude.

Sometimes I see people, and I may smile or wave or say ‘hi’. But I can’t always hear what they are saying. What if they want a stop and chat? What if they have something really important to say? Tough; I’ve just walked past them!

It’s difficult enough trying to gauge if someone wants to have a chat or not. But the awkwardness is multiplied by ten if you have earphones in. I need to make a decision whether to remove my earphones. If I do, it’s a bit embarrassing if the other person didn’t want to chat. “I was just scratching my head! The earphones fell out! Hahahaha!!

Blocking out the world

If I’m in a quieter part of town, listening to my iPod means I am blocking out the sounds of the world. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first. But the sounds of the world can be so interesting, and I don’t hear them as often as I perhaps should.

What is also absurd is the fact that often I find that I am not paying attention to the podcast at all. I am lost in my own thoughts.

I go for a walk every day. Part of the idea behind that is to give me space to think. But then I deliberately go out to inhibit that by listening to podcasts instead. I carry a notepad around with me at all times, but it is years since I wrote down any ideas while I was out and about. I am too busy listening to a podcast to be creative myself.

The experiment

So, in the spirit of self-improvement, I have decided to experiment. I will not listen to the iPod at all while I’m out and about during February. I will still listen to podcasts at home and in the car. I will still listen to music in the office and at home. But if I am outdoors, I will refrain from listening to the iPod completely.

It will be interesting to see what happens. Will I feel an improvement? Will I have more nice chit-chats with people? Will I hear new sounds and learn new things about my environment? Will I be happier? Will I come up with new ideas? Will I be sent round the bend with nothing but my own thoughts to occupy myself?

I plan to report back.

This is part 2 of 3 in the series The iPodless experiment

iPod earphones jack

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.

Nice conversations

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.

Tentative conclusion

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.

This is part 3 of 3 in the series The iPodless experiment

Throughout the month of February, I planned to avoid using my iPod outdoors. Check out the first post for the reasons behind the experiment, and the second post for my thoughts after two weeks.

My thoughts at the end of the month were not too different to the first two weeks. But the novelty had worn off slightly. I wasn’t finding myself having as many pleasant conversations as I did at first. Nor had I given anyone directions in the final two weeks.

However, I had decided that it is generally a good idea not to use my iPod outdoors. But there is no need to be dogmatic about it. Sometimes I will find myself feeling the need to listen to music when I go on my walk — and I think I failed to stick to my promise a further two or three times during the month. By that time, I had decided what the outcome of my experiment was.

Since February ended, I have not started using my iPod all the time when I’m out and about. I am now just as likely to avoid using the iPod. Indeed, it now feels slightly strange listening to the iPod outdoors.

Everything in moderation.