IPod Addicts Lose Hearing, annoy the rest of Us

Published by rudy Date posted on April 16, 2009

April 15 (Bloomberg) — I have nothing against music. As long as it’s played in the privacy of a home, car or concert hall, or at low decibel levels in public places, music is food for the soul.

That said, I don’t like music imposed on me. When I’m forced to listen to the thwack, thwack, thwack of rap emanating from the earbuds of someone else’s iPod, I just about lose it.

The reaction is visceral. My heart starts to race, my stomach tightens and I have an overwhelming impulse to grab the earbuds and separate the man from his music — all the symptoms of Noise Aversion Syndrome (NAS).

For those of us who like to be alone with our thoughts, there’s nowhere to hide. Every car of the New York City subway offers such a cacophony that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority might as well be piping in heavy-metal Muzak.

I’ve tried different tactics to teach these noise offenders consideration for others, starting with the nonverbal (a fixed glare) and moving on to the gentle prod (“Excuse me, could you turn that down?”), the insistent interruption (“This is a public space!”), and eventually the desperate shriek (“Do you realize how loud that is?”).

The response is always the same: a look that says, “Yeah, lady, loud enough so I can’t hear you.”

A few months back, a man got on the subway playing his portable radio with no headphones of any kind. (Before you accuse me of sexual bias, studies show that, on average, men listen to music louder than women.) He settled into a seat and turned up the sound. The shared glances among fellow travelers confirmed that I wasn’t alone in finding his behavior over the top.

Advanced Stages

What separated me from them, I suspect, was the urge to inflict harm on this person.

Recognizing physical violence as confirmation of Stage 4 NAS, I decided an intervention was in order. So I called the MTA, only to learn that yes, there are New York City statutes that limit noise levels; and yes, the MTA will send some cops to check out the concerts on the No. 6 train; and no, there is no relief for folks like me who aren’t interested in audio stimulation on the subway.

IPod addiction isn’t confined to the subway. Colonies of users are showing up on inter-city transit systems as well. Amtrak promotes its “Quiet Car” service, which is only quiet if you discount the iPod seepage coming from the seat next to you and the singing and swaying with the music.

IPod offenders are in elevators, in stores, on street corners, everywhere you turn. I thought about finding a support group or a 12-step program. Ultimately, I decided the only cure for NAS was to write about it and, in the process, exorcise my demons.

Your Music, My Ears

Let’s start with the science. There’s a reason the men doing roadwork wear earmuffs. Loud noise destroys the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. A loss of 25-30 percent of these cells, which convert sound waves into electrical impulses, results in hearing loss.

Noise-related hearing loss is a function of both volume and duration of exposure. A good rule of thumb (mine) is that if the volume on your iPod sounds normal to me, it’s too loud for you.

Apple Inc. is great when it comes to product design and functionality on computers, software and mobile phones. But the earbuds that come with the iPod stink.

For starters, they don’t seem to go in the ear. Instead they sort of rest on the external ear, enhancing the listening experience for the rest of us.

Audio Sharing Device

What’s more, they can’t be very comfortable because users sometimes drape the wires over their ears, letting the earbuds dangle freely. Observing that sort of entitled behavior is dangerous to my health.

Not to mention my hearing. With Generation iPod increasingly tuned in to portable rock concerts and tuned out to the rest of us, no wonder audiologists are finding an increase in noise-related hearing loss among today’s youth.

The greater the hearing loss, the louder they have to set the volume on their iPods. Pretty soon I’ll have to worry about secondary hearing loss.

(Caroline Baum, author of “Just What I Said,” is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer on this story Caroline Baum in New York at cabaum@bloomberg.net.

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