Saturday, September 13, 2008

iPod ban revisited

I've been wanting to chime in again on the iPod ban (see here and here) for a while, so here it is.

I was actually waiting for Running Times Magazine to post their September issue, which included a rather absurd editorial on the matter. However, the site still only has the July/August issue up, despite the fact that October's issue is already out.

The editorial (by David Gerweck) essentially disses people who use portable music devices as though they're not true runners, athletes, whatever. To wit:

[the iPod] allowed a whole new segment of the population, who heretofore had found the process of repeatedly putting one foot in front of the other too tedious to endure for a few minutes, to so dissociate from
their bodies they could run for miles, even 26 of them.

Way to not make this an elitist, us-versus-them issue.

Gerweck also rehashes the safety argument, which I have yet to see substantiated by anything other than preemptive speculation. Gerweck does make an attempt:

Last year at a race, an ambulance responding to a runner having a heart attack was delayed several minutes by headphone-wearing runners who couldn't hear it's siren.

What race? Where? When? I don't let my students get away with neglecting to provide evidence, and I sure don't take journalists seriously when they fail to. But ok, let's assume this episode of a delayed ambulance did occur. Are you sure that this delay was because of "headphone-wearing runners who couldn't hear it's siren?" Are you sure it wasn't 100s (or 1000s) of bodies running the race? Moreover, I don't know where this race took place, but any ambulance siren that I've ever heard is almost painfully piercing. So much so in fact, that I have a very hard time believing that the average person wearing headphones - even at maximum volume - would be unable to hear a siren coming at them, causing them to remain in its path.

Races that have enforced the rule, like the Grandma's and Twin City marathons, have found it made there events safer; many runners have said it made those races more enjoyable too.

How are we able to empirically say that these races are "safer?" Is there actually data that illustrates this over a headphone-friendly race? Or is this just what people who support the ban have said regarding the races in question? Likewise for those who enjoy listening to music, perhaps it was a rather unenjoyable experience.

But Gerweck's BIG POINT is that the iPod has made running "less social."

...for me, one of the sport's greatest appeals is the social interaction and camaraderie it engenders. Whether on an easy morning run or a near-breathless jog between gut-busting intervals, talk among runners was ever-present. But now it's in danger of becoming extinct.

Like the polar bears. But seriously, it's not as if anybody is making people run with iPods. Those folks who enjoy socializing while on the run should go for it. That's fine. Who's going to argue against camaraderie?

But for me, running isn't about other people. It's about me. Selfish? You bet. Running is when I am cut off from school, work, deadlines, research, writing, etc. etc. It's 'me-time.' It's a time for my mind to sort out to-do lists, mentally arrange plans, be introspective.

Even beyond that, I've tried running with other people a few times. And I hated it. I know that I'm clearly not a "serious" runner in Gerweck's mind, but running with someone and socializing just leaves me winded, and the run much less enjoyable. I don't want to socialize with anyone while I'm running. The most I want to have to say is "Excuse me, thanks" or a friendly "Hello."

This dependence on musical accompaniments to workouts has, in some cases reached the level of reducto ad absurdum. I know two friends who are religious about running together, yet with each of them wearing their own iPod! Physically together, they're as separate socially and emotionally as if they were alone.

This doesn't seem so ridiculous to me. First of all, Gerweck assumes "social" equates "verbal." [Sorry, but I'm a communication guy]. Surely we can engage with each other socially without speaking. But more importantly, these hypothetical iPod twins are hardly separated emotionally. For some people it's merely the presence of someone else that provides a sense of support, or even challenge (in terms of pace, for example).

The good note in the article is that Gerweck suggests the ban's repeal (though he calls it "unfortunate").


Fast forward to today, when I recieved the info for my upcoming marathon. Whether or not the iPod ban would be part of this or not has been on my mind. Finally, I get confirmation! But it's not good. The are recognizing the ban.

I find this disappointing and humorous. Disappointing for obvious reasons. Humorous because of a blurb I received in a recent newsletter about the race:

Without Crossing the Finish Line First

Provident Bank is especially proud to be the Official Bank of the 2008 Baltimore Marathon, and as a mainstay in Baltimore banking since 1886, we know all about long distance performance. On race day, we'll be giving away 26 ipods at the Provident booth at Celebration Village and 26 digital cameras at the Provident mile at Patterson Park. We hope to see you there!

So we're banning the use of iPods for this event, but we're also giving them away. I love it.

Whether or not officials will be yanking and disqualifying music fans remains to be seen. As I've mentioned before, it seems that most races state the ban, but don't enforce it (indeed - imagine the chore of regulating headphone use in something like the Baltimore Running Festival, which has 17,000 participants). We'll just have to see what we can see. In the meantime, I'll continue taking the Zune on my runs, thank you.

The latest issue of Runner's World (a better publication, for my money) has a short interview with Sugar Ray Leonard.

"I cannot run without my iPod. I run to Teddy Pendegrass, Luther Vandross, Outkast. I always ran to Michael Jackson's 'Leave Me Alone' when I was making my comebacks because the press and public were so against them."

Are you going to fuck with Sugar Ray, seriously?


John at Hella Sound said...

You, sir, are right on the money. Races can be unsafe due to poorly laid-out courses or bad planning or unexpected heat waves, but I would like to see the empirical data that reinforces the notion that headphone usage is dangerous.
Until then, I suspect the ban is a concession to "purists" can't find another explanation to substantiate their dislike of iPod runners.

Gonzo said...

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the comment. Of course, I agree. In the article he makes the flawed parallel to traffic laws. The difference of course is that we HAVE data in that context. This whole issue is just so silly. I'm told the USTAF meets at the end of the year - conjecture suggests they'll rescind the ban. One can only hope.

What gets me is that aside from the flawed argumentation, this ban (if enforced) is likely to actually discourage people from running. Great flippin' idea there. Let's discourage members of our statistically obese and unhealthy nation from exercising.

On another note, how are things coming along over there? I signed up for alerts on your site some time ago, but haven't heard anything. I'm curious as to what awaits!