Sunday, May 08, 2005


Just stick the word "iPod" into a fairly flat news report, and all of a sudden you have something zeitgeisty and biting. For example, the story that "listening to music through headphones too loud can cause permanent hearing damage" - a news report which surfaces every two or three years, and has been since the first Walkman landed in the UK - is now redressed as a modern scourge: Digital music craze stores up ear trouble for iPod fanatics. In a bid to try and make it sound like a new risk, they've done their best:

The original Walkman played cassettes with a maximum duration of two hours, while portable CD players give up to 80 minutes a disc. A typical MP3 player, however, can store up to 300 hours of music and has batteries that last for 12 hours before needing to be recharged.

... because, of course, when we played music on our walkmans, once we reached the end of a tape, we switched them off and stared out the train window.

So, has the problem suddenly got worse as a result of the MP3 player's popularity?

"It would obviously be beneficial to reduce the volume and restrict the usage of personal players," said Christine DePlacido, principal audiological scientist at the Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy. "The difficulty is in persuading people to do this before their hearing is damaged, as many believe hearing loss will not happen to them until they are much older.

DePlacido added: "A lot of the young people I see with tinnitus describe listening to music at high intensities. It would be hard to say how great this problem is, bearing in mind I only see people who are distressed by their tinnitus. I imagine there are a lot more people out there who are just living with it."

In other words, while it is a problem, it's not entirely clear that it's a major problem. The RNID has done a survey which found that 46% of young people in Scotland didn't know that loud music could damage your ears - but that was three years ago, and doesn't quite mean that half of all Scottish teenagers are pumping mp3s into their ear canals at high levels. Nor does the research showing 13% of 18-24s listen to personal stereos for two hours or upwards every day exactly extrapolate into 13% of young people damaging their ears.

It is a real risk - and, yes, maybe we should follow France and insist that devices designed to be put into the ear can't play noise at ear-damaging levels (in fact, that's just common sense, isn't it?) - but trying to create a panic seems to be missing the point just a little. We said: MISSING THE POINT...

1 comment:

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