Monday, August 30, 2010

Sony Walkman and Cultural Regulation

This post (Jay Allen Sanford, "Responding to Personal Spam, History of Personal Music Players, Soundmen Sound Off, Concerts Make You Deaf, & Musical Car Horns," San Diego Reader, June 3, 2008), expands upon the question of the cultural regulation of the Walkman (and more recently, the iPod).

Relevant bits:

Hector Gonzales, a substitute teacher in San Diego public schools, never hesitates to confiscate Walkmans or iPods (which he returns to students at the end of the school day). "When you wear them in public, headphones are anti-social devices [which] foster self-centered, elitist attitudes and prevent the kindling of conversation among fellow human beings. Especially with teenagers, who need as much social interaction as possible in order to be well adjusted adults. And they play [music] at such a high volume...anyone standing nearby can discern specific lyrics."

Shortly after talking to Gonzales, I come across a teenager - "Sammy" - seated at a bus stop on El Cajon Boulevard, though I hear him before I see him due to the volume of the music he's playing through his iPod headset. Once I coax him out from under the speaker pads, I ask whether he feels cut off from his surroundings when his "private" music is loud enough to drown out all outside noise.

"Some people give me dirty looks, but kids my age are into it. Like, if I see another guy [with a Walkman or iPod], we might start talking about what bands we're playing. So it's just the opposite as anti-social. It was a dude with a Walkman who turned me on to his Suicidal [Tendencies] CD, 'cause we swapped headsets to check out each others' tunes. That's a complete stranger, dude. The music's what got us talking."

..."When I'm at the gym, I put on [this] headset but there's nothing playing," says Deborah Macey, whom I spot wearing headphones at a Family Fitness Center...

"I thought you were hitting on me. See, I put [the headset] on to keep away all the guys who come here just to use pickup lines...

The jury is still out as to whether wearing HEADPHONES while working out to music is more damaging to your hearing.

On the premise that headphones isolate wearers and prevent them from hearing important sirens, threatening engine noise and car horn warnings, California's Vehicle Code section 27400 states that "No person operating any motor vehicle or bicycle shall wear any headset covering, or any earplugs in, both ears."...

The code is rarely enforced, although bicyclists sometimes find themselves cited. "It's not very fair, because there's no law against deaf people riding bikes," argues Jeremy Porter of Senior Spokes, a North County cycling club. "Earmuffs, the kind you use to keep your ears warm, aren't illegal to wear on a bike or in a car, but they 'cover both ears' and drown out a lot more sound [than headphones]. There is one good reason not to wear headphones [while bicycling]. If someone else hits you, it's a lot harder to collect from the other guy's insurance company if you get into an accident with headphones on! They'll say it was your fault because you couldn't hear what was going on around you!"

Porter points out that car manufacturers brag about how soundproof it is inside their vehicles. "By comparison, wearing headphones doesn't block out nearly as much sound as the closed windows and soundproofing in a new Lexus. Walkman headphones are optimized for frequency bandwidths from around 600 hz to 3000 hz. That's about the same as the average speaking voice. Noise at frequencies outside this range can be heard easily through the speaker pads, as long as the headphones aren't played to loud. Lightweight open-air mini-headphones aren't going to block out the sound of a siren or a car horn or even a barking dog."

...As for wearing headsets while listening to private music on the job, some studies indicate that allowing employees to do so increases productivity and boosts workplace morale - and eliminates arguments over what music should be played aloud.

In one study of organizational behavior, 75 out of 256 workers of a retail sales company listened to personal stereos on the job for four weeks. They showed a 10-percent increase in productivity compared to co-workers.

No comments: