Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Confronting "iPod Oblivion"

Last November in my previous blog I cited an article by Christine Laue of the Omaha World-Herald explaining that iPods are becoming as big a road hazard as cell phones due to the increasing number of motorists wearing ear buds. According to Caroline McCarthy of CNET, a New York state senator has decided that pedestrians are equally a hazard and equally at risk:

State Sen. Carl Krueger, a Democrat who represents New York's 27th district in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, claimed that the phenomenon of "iPod oblivion" has led to a number of fatal accidents on urban streets. While he did not cite any statistical studies that have indicated a rise in such incidents, he referred to the January death of a 23-year-old Brooklyn man who, tuned into his iPod headphones, walked into the path of a city bus.

The bill would effectively make it illegal to use any kind of portable electronic device--a music or video player, cell phone, smart phone, gaming device, etc.--while crossing the street in cities such as New York, Albany and Buffalo. Offenders would be slapped with a $100 fine and a criminal court summons. Joggers and bicyclists would have to limit their iPod use to city parks in which no street crossing would be involved.

"You can't be fully aware of your surroundings if you're fiddling with a BlackBerry, dialing a phone number, playing Super Mario Brothers on a Game Boy, or listening to music on an iPod," Krueger said in a statement. He added that while police in other major cities--such as San Diego, Calif.--have warned that tuning in to portable electronic devices may leave pedestrians vulnerable to threats from pickpockets and muggers, he believes the real threat is from road traffic.

Unfortunately, Senator Krueger has hit on the fundamental truth behind this foolishness, whether practiced by pedestrians or motorists: the popularity of the iPod owes a considerable amount (if not everything) to the fact that its users (as in the same epithet applied to drug addicts) do not want to "be fully aware of" their surroundings! Think of all the technology that allows us to escape reality, not just in portable devices but also on our desk at home. Is it any wonder that we have fulfilled Wells' vision of those mindless and ineffectual Eloi?

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