On the etiquette of wearing iPods

Elsewhere on the internets I’ve been reading about what sort of music people listen to in the lab.

Back in Cambridge we used to have about 8 solid days’ worth of music in iTunes, as well as access to everyone else’s shared music and a (rather crappy, admittedly) radio. We had a lot to choose from, and the only fights occurred when a certain grad student got in early and played nothing but Coldplay and The Whitlams. I still shudder when I hear certain intro riffs. Oh, and when Trevor brought in jazz CDs. Ugh.

Here, music is banned from the main lab area and the offices. I have no problem with that; it does solve all sorts of arguments, even if sometimes you feel the need for Paint it Black when the RT-PCR fails yet again. We have a (clockwork!) radio in the gel room, which provides background hum (but the state of Sydney’s radio stations is abysmal, even if some of the adverts crack me up).

This does mean that people tend to wear iPods a lot. I know that some consider this to be antisocial and insular, but I’ve never really been bothered by this. Having received an iPod for Christmas, I’ve been able to appreciate the privacy that it gives you, and I wonder if there is a generally accepted etiquette for wearing them.

Let me explain. It’s probably obvious that a cove sitting in front of a culture hood is wearing an iPod because it’s better than the droning of the fans and putputputput of the suction. This means it is all right to talk to him, although don’t expect him to take an earbud out to listen to you (because his hands are aseptic).

I suspect that if someone is working at a bench in the wet lab then you have to look at how many earbuds are being worn. One means “Yup, I’m listening”. Two probably means “Do not disturb: I’ve already made a mistake setting up this PCR and if you talk I shall ignore you. If you persist, I shall stab you with my Gilson”. Whether the hands are gloved or not might have some bearing on the situation.

Of course, if someone is bopping along and singing “She never drinks the water and makes you order French Champagne” they’re fair game and you are allowed, indeed obliged, to interrupt before it’s too late.

In an office, someone with both earbuds in is also probably trying to concentrate and does not want to be disturbed, unless it is really urgent. Try sending him an email instead. Either that or he’s trying to drown out the power drill that’s been going outside the window all bloody morning.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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7 Responses to On the etiquette of wearing iPods

  1. Anna Kushnir says:

    I could have used this iPod etiquette primer earlier. I think I have approached a number of “both bud” situations when I should have steered clear. I like iPods in labs though. They are almost a door substitute in an open space. While you can’t leave or shut a door, you can always turn up the music and stuff the buds a little further into your ears.

  2. Henry Gee says:

    Coldplay? Coldplay? You pathetic young whippersnapper. In my lab it was a choice of either Motorhead or the mighty Zep, except when my lab partner – now a distinguished Professor whom I shan’t embarrass by mentioning by name – abruptly turned off the tape player so he could serenade us, expertly, with his lute. I kid you not.

  3. Richard P. Grant says:

    Ah, I didn’t mention the Mighty Zep. The Immigrant Song, with its scream of tortured souls, was often apposite in our lab.

  4. Nicholas Wigginton says:

    How about when you’re in a very quiet lab/office and the bozo next to you has their ipod on full blast. Don’t get me wrong, I love treble just as much as the next guy, but when it’s piping out of someones earbuds just above a whisper, I about lose it.

  5. Cath Ennis says:

    I left the lab before the iPod era and remember the fights over the radio all too well – especially when there was a daytime football game on during the World Cup! Big arguments between the interested and not interested factions.
    iPod etiquette apparently applies to all levels of life now. A friend and I took part in a high school science outreach programme a couple of years ago, and at least half the kids were listening to iPods in the classroom during our presentation / demonstration. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The teacher said it’s school policy that it’s OK as long as only one bud is in.

  6. Henry Gee says:

    Cath, that’s terrible!! If I’d been that outreach worker I’d have walked out, then and there. iPods or not, that’s simple discourtesy.

  7. Cath Ennis says:

    Actually, I was surprised at how responsive the kids were. 2 young female scientists coming into a classroom at my high school would have been met with indifference at best and open teasing at worst, but these guys got involved, asked us questions about our career paths etc. Maybe they’re so used to being “plugged in” that it doesn’t affect their functioning any more!

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