Tuning Out

Last Friday, an article I wrote about travel-related songs appeared on Brave New Traveler. (You should go check it out if you haven’t already.) Anyhow, writing it got me thinking about music and just how portable it is now. MP3 players (specifically the iPod) are ubiquitous these days. Almost everyone in the 35 and under crowd owns one, and a whole heck of a lot of people in the older age groups do too. With these gadgets, you can literally carry with you thousands of songs in your pocket. Pretty amazing. I’m certain Jeff and I will enjoy this technology multiple times while we’re on the road…on those marathon bus rides, in noisy hostel rooms, etc.

But sometimes, I’m tempted to just leave my iPod at home. Though I wrote that article on music and though I love me some good tunes, I’m not a music junkie. I’m not up on the latest bands, and half the time, I’d just rather ride in silence in the car than listen to the radio, so it’s not like I’d be missing some integral part of me. And, I have to admit, that I often find the iPod or other MP3 gadget to be more than a little annoying. For instance, while out hiking yesterday, we passed a fellow hiker walking with his earbuds in through a gorgeous stretch of woods where the birds were chirping and a creek was burbling. What? Why go out in nature if you can’t disconnect yourself? You’re missing half the experience of being outdoors.

Sometimes I think we’ve become so “connected” to technology that we’ve become entirely disconnected from the world. On my Metro ride everyday, I’d say at least 75% of the people in my car are listening to iPods. No one talks to each other. Everyone just pops in their earphones and escapes to their own world…while oftentimes taking others with them whether they want to go or not because apparently most of the world is deaf and must listen to their iPods at a volume that makes the earphones unnecessary. (Lord, I sound like an old person.) Now to be honest, I doubt too many people would talk on the Metro even without the iPods, but still, I find it bothersome when people use their iPods as a means of ignoring other people. Can you not take your stupid earphones out for one second while you’re checking out at the grocery (I’m sure the cashier would appreciate some acknowledgment), when your coworker comes to talk to you (Um, you are at work, and she shouldn’t have to yell over your music), or when you’re in the freaking great outdoors (Soundtrack already included).

On our trip, that totally oblivious iPod person is not the person I want to be. I’m traveling to learn more about the world, to become more in tune with it…not my favorite songs. What’s the point of traveling around the world, if I’m always going to escape into my own private world? Will having an iPod be an easy escape from a difficult situation? Will I miss out on a fabulous conversation with a local on a bus because I’m too busy listening to my music? Will I seem out of reach, uninterested, unaware if I pop a set of earphones in? In the end, will being “connected” cause me to be completely “disconnected”?