The iPod has been affecting our commutes for 10 years now


Two CTA passengers shared an iPod on the ‘L’. Photo by Erin Nekervis. 

I bought a two-year subscription to the Sunday Chicago Tribune. It’s given me a lot of tips and ideas for blog posts, especially when it comes to Metra and the Chicago Transit Authority. Sitting down and browsing through, page by page, is an easier way to consume all of the news: it’s impossible to find every article the same group published on their website for that day (at least I haven’t found a method).

Anyway, on the cover of the Arts & Entertainment section was a large representation of the famous iPod “click wheel”, the touch sensitive “wheel” (without moving parts on most models) that doubles as four buttons. Ah, the iPod has turned 10! Indeed, the Apple iPod came out in October 2001. I got one for Christmas – it was a big deal as it cost $399, or about $511 today.

The article was about how that little white brick started a revolution in how we acquire and listen to music. Author Greg Kot interviewed 13 people, including musicians, a college student, an MC, and a Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney, to get their take on the iPod’s impact: “wonderful and terrible” Kot summarized.

One interviewee brought up the iPod’s impact on traveling to and from work:

“Once I stopped using the iPod (or for that matter, any mobile personal stereo) I then found I preferred listening to the sounds around me on my commutes. There have been times when I am driving or on the train where having that ‘insular personal world inside your headphones’ feeling is quite nice. Also, being able to use it as a hard drive was also handy. But I have grown to much prefer saving my listening time for the home stereo and carrying a flash drive for portable files.” – Frank Orrall, singer-songwriter in Poi Pog Pondering

In that vein, I ask you to leave a comment on how the iPod has personally impacted your commute, or the commuting environment.

I’ve been commuting by bicycle since 2006 when I moved to Chicago to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and I’ve never listened to music on headphones while bicycling – I prefer to hear my surroundings without interruptions. I did buy a $10 portable speaker last Christmas and I’ve occasionally cycled with that playing, but it’s quality is so poor that the sound dies after 15 minutes; I like having music while bicycling because it makes taking the same route a little less boring. When I drove to school and work, I only had a CD player. I used iTunes to burn mix CDs on a weekly basis. And I rarely commute by transit so I’m not sure I can say that the iPod has had an impact on my commutes (I’ve had four in 2001-2011).

Related article on Greater Greater Washington: Blogs and social media change the conversation on transit.

10 thoughts on “The iPod has been affecting our commutes for 10 years now”

  1. I almost always get nauseous when I try to read on a bus or CTA (though not Metra) train, so my Nano has made a lot of my bike-free commutes more pleasant. But sometimes I prefer to just check out the views.

    1. I almost always bring my Nano on Metra trips, but I’ve realized I spend all my time looking out the window and not actually listening to the music. Like today: I took the MD-W to Schaumburg and stared out the south window on the outbound trip and the north window on the inbound trip. 

  2. I often listen to a novel while biking.  I listen in only one ear, and find it easy to tune out the book when my route needs my full attention.  With young kids around and a full-time job, etc, long bike rides give me a chance to so some “reading”, and I love it.

    1. I never feel safe biking in an urban area listening with both earbuds – too hard to concentrate on traffic and navigation. But listening with only one earbud seems relatively safe.

  3. Since I got my Nano a few years ago, it’s made thousands of Metra and El trips a lot more pleasant.  If I just want to relax and not listen to everything around me, I pick a music mix and just enjoy the tunes.

    For the bike, I’ve got an older, simpler version of  this little goodie.  Mine works nicely and has decent battery life.  This one improves on mine with a rechargeable battery, radio tuner and remote.

  4. i love my Nano!  i used to plug it into a small lego-shaped speaker and keep the whole thing in my back pocket as i rode my bike (  the speaker was fried after a 4 months of use.  and even at its max volume, it wasn’t audible on busy streets.  and occasionally my butt would change the song when i got on and off my saddle.  so i’m still looking for a good solution for this.  when i take the CTA, the Nano is a must.  Discourages people from talking to you, and it makes the commute go by faster.

      1. yipes.  that’s slightly too bulky for everyday use!  i’m sure the sound is great, but not a commute-friendly solution.  you’d have to remove everything once you got to your destination.  i assume you use this set-up when you know your bike will have secure indoor parking.  i think the problem with tiny speakers is that it craps out played at high volumes.  mine started deteriorating by making crackly noises and then stopped working all together.  if it could be mounted closer to your ears, then the volume could be lower and the speaker might last longer.  anyways, my commute is so short anyways i don’t mind not having music.

  5. My Nano has changed my life! It has made all manner of boring tasks bearable–may I even say enjoyable… From laundry to dishes, to a long train or bus ride, there is nothing like listening to a good book or engaging podcast (This American Life is my favorite). I have an audible subscription and  like to get the big juicy 30 hour-long books so no tedious chore is ever endeavored without entertainment.  

    However I NEVER use my ipod headphones while riding.  When you are listening to music or a story it is, as mentioned in the article, an insular world, one that detracts from the awareness of where you are and what’s around you.  I think it is irresponsible and unsafe to not be fully aware of your surroundings while riding.  You often have to react quickly to changing situations, and not hearing the click of a door opening or a siren in the distance could be detrimental.

    My husband and I have come up with the perfect set-up for blasting “tunage” out of speaker while riding.  We got some cheap USB speakers for a computer, the kind that get their power from the USB cord only; a portable solar charger ( that you can also charge up with your computer using a USB cord; and an average mp3 player (we switch between my husband’s Sandisk and my Nano).  The speakers plug into the solar charger and the mp3 player runs off its own juice.  We have gotten hours of music with this system.  The speakers and the charger are tiny, so everything fits in a small electronics bag in the tiny metal basket strapped to my husband’s Dahon Mariner’s rear rack.  The volume isn’t quite as loud as we want it, but it is plenty loud so that anybody riding nearby can enjoy the music. We took our rig to the LATE ride, the Seersucker ride and a Northside Mass so far and everyone seemed to enjoy it. It’s perfect for both group rides and nights on the town.

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