September 30, 2005


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It was not until I attended a lecture given by a professor bearing an eerie resemblance to Seinfeld’s Newman (Wayne Knight) that I truly discovered the wonderful potential of the iPod. While Newman droned on about something I probably needed to know, I turned my attention towards having a conversation with a friend of mine. She was telling me how this was the first time she’d really known anyone in any of her classes. I told her that she wasn’t the only one and that most of my existence on campus is, truth-be-told, pretty solitary. In fact, if it weren’t for my iPod I’d look like a real lonesome loser. We then re-focused our gaze on Newman, who had worked up some nice sweat stains from standing still for so long.

As soon as class was over, I popped on the trademark iPod headphones and exited the building listening to a typically enlightening cascade of Zach de la Rocha lyrics. As I ventured through the quad and looked at people walking in groups or at least by two’s, I realized just how crucial a social device the iPod is for those who meander Cornell without company.

The iPod is like a newspaper or a crossword puzzle when dining alone. When you notice someone engaged in a paper, you think, “That’s what they chose to do.” In fact, they might even want to be left alone. However, when you look across Trillium and spy someone seated by him or herself, hurriedly devouring a meal while staring out the window you think, “Oh that’s sad, how lonely.”

The iPod works in much the same way. When you see that forlorn soul hustling down the sidewalk, it is easy to assume he is just scurrying from class to class with academia as his only loyal companion. But give him a sleek, sexy iPod and equip him with those unmistakable monochromatic headphones and he is now grooving to class, not amused by the childish banter of the poor and musicless.

However, an iPod is not just a crutch for the socially inadequate, it also serves as a powerful tool to exert control over one’s social experience. I’m sure many of you share in the delight of realizing that the special someone, with whom you shared a Saturday night, drinks, skin and a brief period Sunday morning, actually goes to Cornell. Maybe you even shared numbers, but then only out of courtesy for one another. Now you’re faced with the task of passing one another on a sidewalk, four feet in width, and not showing any indication that you’ve noticed each other. Without an iPod, you’re exposed and surely going to make an ass of yourself. But with the ability to retreat into the iTunes universe, it’s a breeze. You can get a little drumbeat going on your thigh, study that fascinating crack in the sidewalk and pass right on by.

While the importance of avoiding that lovely lady with whom you shared in the joys of alcohol-induced impotence is significant, it pales in comparison to the iPod’s most rewarding advantage. On any given day, you may find yourself walking home or to the bookstore and wind up smack in the middle of Ho Plaza. There, you will invariably be accosted by hordes of people asking you to do anything from belly dance to handcuff yourself to a tree.

Worst of all, you may be guilted into parting with the quarters in your pocket that you’ve meticulously calculated to be just enough to fund the laundry load, thus allowing you to finally wash the underwear you had on yesterday and are wearing inside out today. This can all be avoided if you’re careful to keep those headphones nestled in your ears before the peddlers in Ho Plaza descend upon you like the porno distributors in Vegas.

The iPod serves as a social device, not only because it displays the fact you’re jammin’, but also because it advertises that you are a proud owner of the biggest must-have accessory since Uggs. I vividly remember the inadequacy coursing through my veins when I used to traverse Cornell with a discman in tow. I became adept at controlling my musical artifact without removing it from my jacket, so as not to be unmasked as a technological dinosaur.

I might as well have had a record player strapped to my back, at least then I’d be in with the vintage craze. I even considered purchasing iPod headphones with the versatile Cornell card in an effort to perpetuate the illusion that I, too, was a subscriber to the latest Steve Jobs success story.

Last year, I finally ascended from the dark ages and proudly donned a glowing white iPod with matching headphones. I couldn’t say enough for the convenience the device afforded me. After all, I suddenly had access to thousands of songs at all times and locations that I could scroll through with the touch of a finger. On top of that, I was now part of a major trend at Cornell that didn’t involve spray-on tanner.

But it wasn’t until this year that my iPod truly came into its own. With the help of my pocket-sized music box, I can now cruise Cornell with little fear of an awkward reunion with a floozy of weekends past. But even if that reunion is unavoidable, at least I can hold onto my laundry money.

Archived article by Brad Hill
Sun Contributor