His iPod strapped to his arm as he lifts in the CCBA weight room, Jeff White said he listens to loud rap music because it distracts him and gets him “pumped up.” White, a West Lebanon resident attending Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., uses his iPod mainly when he exercises, but many people who own the slim devices, which play digital audio files, use them throughout the day.
With holiday gifts adding scores of teenagers and younger children to the ranks of enthusiasts, school officials and parents find themselves pondering where to draw the line on the newest brand of personal theme music.
“It’s arrived,” said Martha Rich, head of school at Thetford Academy. “iPod use has become widespread enough so that we’re going to need to think in the school community about what their role is here.”
Thetford Academy, like other schools, has rules about music devices, limiting their use to outside of class and their volume to a “reasonable level,” but Rich said she did not know if those regulations were appropriate for iPods and other brands of MP3 players.
Apple Computer Inc. reported sales of 14 million iPods in the last quarter of 2005, taking total iPod sales to more than 42 million. SanDisk Corp., based in Sunnydale, Calif., reported record revenue in the last quarter of 2005, due in part to selling more than 1 million of its MP3 players.
“A lot of rules were adapted from a time when the chief concern was that your music use would disturb other people,” Rich said. “iPods really eliminate that problem.” A common type of earphones -known as earbuds – pipe music through tiny speakers that fit inside the ear.
But the fact that students can listen to music without disturbing others raises another concern, Rich and others say. “We have to ask ourselves (how to react) when the chief concern is that students are disconnecting at a time when they should be connecting.”
Jim Vanier, youth center coordinator at the Carter Community Building, does not allow the third- through sixth-graders in his program to use personal music devices. Instead he encourages them to play kickball, pool or other interactive activities.
“We’re what you might call old-fashioned,” Vanier said. “We want the kids to be active, not just sitting in a chair.”
Don Stapelfeld, a 14-year-old freshman at Lebanon High School, said he listens to his iPod “24/7.”
“Music’s just a good way to pass the time,” Stapelfeld said. “It’s just a lifestyle.”
He said he listens to music before bed, and even while he’s watching television, he said, “I have a song going.” Nonetheless, Stapelfeld said, he understood the concerns that when people are “into the music,” they may not focus or see what’s going on around them.
The constant flow of music is also an integral part of the lives of Stapelfeld’s two classmates, 15-year-old Sean Merrihew and 14-year-old Pat Hughes. Merrihew and Hughes are in a band; Merrihew said he plays guitar and drums, and Hughes said he plays guitar, drums, bass and “a little keyboard.”
Every time there’s a new technology, said educator Rich, “there are some risks and there are some unintended consequences, but there is also a huge new opportunity that opens.”
She said she’s just beginning to think about possible benefits of MP3 players.
Tom Weir, an 18-year-old senior at Hanover High School, said his iPod can help him concentrate, especially when he does math.
He will often play music in just one ear so he can hear what’s going on, such as when he is in the library.
“You’re at a table with people, and you want to talk and study, but you also want to listen to music,”Weir said.
Josh Howe, a 17-year-old senior at Lebanon High School, said he listens to classic rock and rap on his CD player during most of his day.
“I couldn’t live without music,”Howe said. “I’d be so bored.”
Rich said some of Thetford’s teachers would prefer the music devices be prohibited throughout the school day, but others are ready to have students use them to listen to “podcasts,” which are downloadable audio files, such as talk-radio segments, distributed over the Internet. Because the popular iPod is relatively tiny, however, “there’s more risk they’re (students) using them when they should be doing other things.”
The hood trick
Enter the hood trick, well-known to students who see it used during class to hide MP3 players. For some students, it’s as simple as threading the earphone wires inside a hooded top so the device is virtually undetectable. Tom Francis, a 17-year-old senior at Lebanon High School, described a more complex version that involves cutting holes in a pocket to thread the wires through and duct tape in the hood to hold them.
“To be honest with you, I’ve never even seen one,” said Hartford High School Principal Joe Collea. “They’re quite small.
“They’re smaller than a lunch pail, and they show movies?” he added incredulously.
But he knows they’re out there, and he is aware of the hood trick. His nephew, he said, has a hooded coat with earphone holes built into the hood. “Kids have always found ways to beat the system,” Collea said.
Students aren’t allowed to have them in classroom situations, Collea said, and school officials discourage bringing them to school for a practical reason – two iPods have been stolen since winter break (one was returned). Collea said school authorities would consider more rules about earphones for next year.
Educators say one of their concerns is the risk of hearing loss from listening at high volumes.
“When I’m in a quiet room with students or walking by them, and they have their earplugs in and I can hear the music, I intervene,”Rich said. “I shouldn’t be able to hear it.”
“Teenagers know they’re immortal even though the rest of us disagree,” Rich added. “It’s hard to help them think of future risks like that.”
Several students interviewed said they know prolonged exposure to loud music could damage their hearing. But they say that there are other hearing risks out there as well, such as construction machinery.
“There’s a lot worse things that can damage our hearing than iPods,” Staplefeld said.
By Jessica T. Lee