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Say No to Christmas Zombies
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The Christmas shopping season is on us again and, as usual, iPods and other personal audio players are among the most popular items. But this year, please say no to those infernal devices.

We already have far too many zombie-like creatures with fixed stares and electrical cords dangling from their ears. They ride our buses and subway cars, walk and jog down our city streets, country lanes and hiking trails, lie on our beaches, drive their cars and ride their bicycles among us.

They're plugged in to their own little world. They hum and sing-along to music we can't hear. They waggle their heads and snap their fingers to beats we can't hear. They smile and laugh and frown at words we can't hear.

They're in an artificial universe of which they are the center and you are not welcome. They tune in and turn off the life around them, creating an environment of their own, which they can control simply by manipulating a switch.

"It's a matter of survival, like the tortoise in the shell," an iPod buyer told a reporter. "It's escapism. I don't need drugs. I don't need booze. I put on my headphones and I'm at peace with the world."

It's no coincidence that personal audio players - "personal stereos," as they were then called -- were first marketed during the 1980s, the decade of the self-centered "Me Generation." They caught on immediately and have been big sellers ever since.

A spokesman for one of the manufacturers touted the devices for "allowing you total immersion in an audio environment that is totally you." Another urged prospective buyers to "think of them as a mute button for the world around you."

What's perhaps most disturbing is that the devices are so highly popular with teenagers and even younger children, who are thus learning in their formative years to avoid interaction with others, sometimes including their school teachers.

This is not to say that the iPods and such are all bad. Think of how it was before they came along. We were a society on the edge of losing any concept of the right of privacy, not to mention our collective hearing, thanks to the huge transistor radios known as "boom boxes" that rocked us and rolled us at the highest decibel levels on street corners, on public transit vehicles, just about everywhere.

Finally, however, even the priests of high technology wearied of the incessant racket they had bestowed on us. That, anyway, jibes with one version of how the personal audio player was born, and that's the version I definitely prefer - that Sony Board Chairman Akio Morito ordered his staff to develop what turned out to be the Walkman to spare himself from the loud music favored by his children. Many other parents undoubtedly are grateful to also have been spared.

Problem is, that though personal audio players have generally supplanted boom boxes, they're still out there, as are the thoughtful folks who drive around with car windows wide open and car radio blaring full blast - kathunk, kaboom! kathunk! kaboom!

And car alarms, of course, shrieking out at all hours, and leaf blowers, and that latest and maybe most irritating noise of all - the trilling ring of cell phones and full-voiced users of same, generously sharing their intimate conversations with us.

But though it's true enough that personal audio players can keep those and other rude sounds of daily life from intruding on us, that's not enough to justify adding still more zombies to the millions who are already among us.

Copyright (c) Dick Meister