Sunday, August 12, 2007

Emotibuds: Small Images for Total Zombies

Some savvy souls have created the emotibud, a cutomized covering for your ear buds. For you prehistoric folks still stumbling through the postmodern world with an unsteady gate, ear buds are the tiny speakers attached to iPods that fit inside your ears. They are a distant cousin to headphones, the bulky speakers put over your ears in my day. ("Wow, man, I can hear the guitar go from left to right--and right through my head!" I had that revelation listening to the album "Abraxis" by Santana in about 1971.) Now everything is miniaturized (except most automobiles, stomachs, and egos--at least in The United States).

These ear bud coverings are adorned with emoticons. Again, for the chronically un-hip, emoticons are little faces made originally with punctuation marks, like this: :) That is a sideways smile. Clever, yes? (Computers also generate trendier ones in full color that change expressions.) Thus, we wear a technology that sonically isolates us from others: the nearly omnipresent iPod. (The Utne Reader ran an article some years ago called "Hell is Other iPods." Please read it.) We are absent in the presence of others--an all-too-common event today. However, we can by stylish (ever minding our personal "lifestyle") as we vacate within the crowd. We may sport a minimalist image of a human face (since our face is not responding much to other human faces around us) on the object that covers our ears.

If this doesn't strike you as strange, you may be one of the zombies.

Yes, of course, iPods can be used in nonalienating ways. I sometimes do it myself when I go on one of my maniacal bike rides on the High Line Canal. This can be defended because it is not a social event, unless some emergency strikes. Even causal conversations simply don't occur outside of, "Passing on the left," if pedestrians don't hear my warning bell. Further, one can use iPods to listen to philosophical lectures or the Bible in the car or in other settings, as many of my friends do. Nevertheless, the iPod often locks people into their own world, usually of one relentless entertainment and not instruction. But why not be locked in and express your style through a pseudo face of your choice?!



Anonymous said...

Its no wonder there are so many unresponsive people out there...they have been avoiding their "people practice". But at least now one can be "in style" during such avoidance! Wow.

Craig Fletcher said...

Agreed that electronics isolate us, however... I'd also like to note that in addition to some of the edifying usages you listed, I also like to use my iPod at bedtime. I fire up a good lecture and fall asleep to it. Sometimes they are too stimulating though and I can't sleep. This happened to me a couple of nights about listening to William Lane Craig's "Religious Epistimology" that I downloaded from, an excellent resource for talks by some of the best.

I'd rather read at night, but my wife doesn't like the reading light on... it keeps her up. :-(

... had to throw in an emoticon.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


Try one of those little reading flashlights, perhaps. Your point still stands, though.

Jon said...

Dr G,

Speaking from experience, try to make sure that you can still hear your surroundings while listening to your iPod on your bike. I used to run on the Canal a lot, and as a faster runner it can be a hindrance when others on the trail can't hear you approaching (I used to pass cyclists, too). Also, I am convinced that if you can't hear what's going on around you out there, you are not safe. There are too many crazy drivers and overall nut jobs out there to deprive yourself of the early-warning system that is your hearing.

And now, I step down from the soapbox.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


I can hear enough and I know that trail like the back of my hand. Sadly, even though lights have been put up where the trail crosses the road, people still barrel right through them too often.

Yossman said...

Now Fletcher that sounds like the worst possible use of an iPod: using it to FALL ASLEEP on GOOD lectures!