Friday, November 02, 2007

My headphones. They saved my life.

I've riden public transportation quite a bit since coming to the Bay Area. Commuting back and forth between San Francisco and Berkeley at least 3 times a week, I've spent my fair share of time on the BART, MUNI, and various buses. These many hours sitting on trains has given me an appreciation for people who commute to work everyday. It's also assured that in the future, I will do everything in my power to live close to where I work.

I started to wonder what public transportation was like before iPods and all of today's portible electronics. Riding buses is an experience in of itself. You're smooshed into a small space with people you don't know, and would probably never spend time with outside of the bus-situation. It's awkward, amusing, interesting, and sometimes disconcerting--all at the same time.

But with half the bus listening to their iPods, you avoid a lot of these interactions. Wearing headphones is a generally well understood "Leave me be" signal. Most people won't try to spark up a long conversation with someone listening to their iPod. For example, I'm deaf in one ear. I don't actually need both earphones when listening to music. But if I'm feeling particularly anti-social on an airplane or bus, I have to put both in--just to fully register the "don't talk to me" message. It's quite effective. (It also avoids confusion when people expect me to hear them if I'm wearing just one earphone.)

Before iPods, and their ability to isolate you from your fellow passengers, did people talk to eachother more on buses? Am I missing out on potentially interesting conversations?

Perhaps. But I'm probably avoiding a lot of uncomfortable situations, too. Coming home from Berkeley on Halloween night, I saw a lot of unique characters on the BART. One of which was a girl, probably about 14 years old, "rapping" about very lewd, sexual things. I heard her through my music and, naturally, looked up to see what was going on. She noticed, asked me if I liked her song, and started singing louder. It was awkward.

But I just turned my iPod volume up and continued my reading. I suppose its nice to have the option of blocking out the rest of world. Particularly on public transportation.