The truthiness of iPod ear

The truthiness of iPod ear: The Peter Townshend loud iPod story is going mainstream in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal. First, let me fully and enthusiastically endorse the common sense notion that it is very likely to be of great harm to one’s hearing to blast one’s iPod into one’s ears. (It couldn’t have been only my Mom who was yelling, “turn down that racket or you’ll go deaf” 35 years ago when the racket was Peter Townshend’s music.)

However, the article in tomorrow’s Journal is in need of a work-over by the WSJ’s “Numbers Guy.” For example, the reporter writes the following:

Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod, and other players by iRiver, Sony and SanDisk — can hold thousands of songs and have longer-lasting batteries than older players. As a result, people are listening to the devices for much longer periods of time.

Say what? The longer-lasting battery claim is easily debunked by anyone who has ever used an iPod. But where could that other statistic possibly come from — the one about “people are listening to devices for longer periods of time” because they have more songs on them. Granted, that sounds logical, but with all the research about people’s media consumption is there any research that shows a correlation between the number of songs one has access to with the amount of time one listens to those songs during a certain period of time? If this were true, shouldn’t the exploding number of hours people spend listening to music be a trend those Pew folks should be all over? Again, the statistic that the more songs you have, the more hours a day you listen to music, may be logical, but you don’t have to be Stephen Levitt to recognize its potential freakiness.

Again, let me say on behalf of moms and dads everywhere. As anyone who has ever had their ears ring for 24 hours after a Who concert can tell you: listening to loud music for a long period of time is not good for you. Do it long enough and you’ll very likely screw up your hearing… permanently. But what is it about iPods that makes that ageless Mom-knows-best fact of life have more “truthiness” today than it did 35 years ago?

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  • Rob Hyndman

    There are more of them.

    I lost about 10% of my hearing to a walkman in the mid 80’s. They were great, but they were nowhere near as popular as the iPod is today. That’s the real issue, IMO.

  • rex

    Are there more iPods than there were Walkmans? There have been something like 30 million iPods sold (and since I’ve purchased several and can use only one at the time, there is some redundancy in that number). I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but I remember Walkmans as being nearly as ubiquitous as iPods (considering there were radio Walkmans, cassette walkmans and later CD walkmans — which I still see quite often).

  • rex

    More – according to this article from a year ago, there were over 300 million Walkmans sold during the 80s and 90s, however, the iPod “adoption rate” is much higher than the Walkman. I believe you’ll see that adoption rate climb as the price falls. However, there were still “LOTs” of Walkmans causing hearing harm to people (like you — and probably me) for a long time. That is my ONLY point. I am not defending iPods. Again: Don’t play your iPods loudly. This advice is especially important if you are a member of my immediate family under the age of 19.

  • lcreekmo

    I’ll just say this. I would like to see someone compare the two-AA battery lifespan in a typical mid-80s Walkman to today’s iPod battery span on a single charge. My bet is the 80’s Walkman ran a lot longer on a single charge. And when it ran down, you could pop in two new batteries immediately and be right back in business. So that whole theory about iPods being more dangerous is ridiculous. It’s just volume and length of time. Both are bad at high volume for any period of time. As is my car radio.

  • Hudge

    While I was getting gasoline today, a very rusted out compact car creaked by – or would’ve creaked if you could have heard the metal sighing over the pounding bass of a sound system that must’ve been worth the Blue Book value of the jalopy. There seem to be an awful lot of these around, too, and my money is on them frying eardrums faster than nearly any personal electronics. Before Walkmans (I still have mine, and sometimes use it) there were boomboxes and “ghetto blasters” that were played full volume and fashionably carried on one shoulder ebside your ears as one strolled along. And some of you may recall those 6 transistor pocket radios with the single monoaurul headphone….

  • Megan

    What? What did you say? Can’t hear you…