The feeling of utter cut-offness from my surroundings is eerie, and probably rather dangerous. It's hard to put my finger on why it feels so wrong, but it's certainly odd that I enjoy a bus journey more without my favourite music in my ears than with it. I guess I don't find the experience so dreadful that I need to find such an artificial way to escape from it.>>It's all in the POV. I am a dedicated listener to these devices but I don't listen to music much through them. The REAL PLUS is that they can extend your capacity to learn while you are doing the most mundane or menial of tasks. Walking, floor washing, wall painting,commuting, laying down or whatever can be turned into learning exercises as the latest podcastable wafts through the ear canal. I find it very empowering in a lifestyle sort of way. And besides, these devices --and the mp3 format -- is the crudest way to listen to music. The quality --because of the amount of squish involved -- is always a trade off. Better to use a Mini Disc/Walkman.
I think it revolutionary in fact, in a cultural sense,that I can do all these other things and still listen to something profound or extraordinary or useful anywhere.
As for the alienation and easy switch off in regard to those around you -- the main problem with mp3 devices is that they are so hard to turn off quickly while you also stumble to remove the plugs from your ears to be fully attentive and polite. But since talk is published at a lower decibel than music this disengagement of which you refer JimJay isn't so marked. With voice only you are still in the bus, train or tram... because you are still cognizant of its soundscape. And besides, in those contexts you refer to --such as commuting -- I would have had my head buried in a newspaper or book if I wasn't being so auditorially engaged.
The problem I have is explaining to people why they should listen to the latest edition of Free Speech Radio News...or that there was narrowly proscribed discussion about anarchism on the BBC's In Our Time..or that Background Briefing has a great doco on identity cards...etc. And that's because they don't listen like I do and thats' MY primary alienation. I'm into this real COOL McLuhanist medium that offers such a high informational quotient, even more so, I think, than newspaper some times.
Walter Benjamin has an interesting essaythat relates to this phenomenon...
And I reckon it may encourage you not to feel so guilty for switching ON when you think you are switching OFF.
But with music in mind there is a proviso: Ipod's Moment in History:
Indeed, the very existence of traditional audiophiles is threatened, since the criteria they use for rating both equipment and recording are no longer a high priority for most listeners. Frequency response, the accuracy of microphones, the virtuosity of musicians -- the bread and butter of "serious" music magazines from the late 1940s until the popularization of the MP3 format -- have become secondary or tertiary considerations in a context where the most important thing is not how good the music sounds, but how readily it is available to you.