iPod, I Quit

It's hard to fathom that a consumer electronic device that is both so cool and so hot may have finally peaked.

In my work with college students I have discovered one thing if I have learned anything at all -- you can hardly find a student on campus without an MP3 device (usually an iPod).

That is, until now.

Several months ago a class project revealed that most students who were asked to give up their iPods and cell phones for two days could easily sacrifice the iPod, but not so much with the cell phone. The cell phone is essential equipment.

This past week I discovered that half of one of my larger classes, students didn't even have an iPod on them. That would not have been true a year or two ago. And just about all students own one.

But why?

Many of the iPod generation are concerned about issues that may not have yet made it on all the experts' radar screens.

Take socializing.

Many are concerned that the iPod is stunting their social growth -- interfering with personal relationships. They want to be available for these encounters -- the first time I've heard more than one person articulate this desire.

My sample group seems concerned about their hearing.

Many have taken action already. Some said they wanted to listen to their iPods less because hearing is compromised by not only loud play but length of time listening -- even at acceptable levels. These students are right on with that. Some have invested in ear buds or even ear phones that will cancel noise and allow for lower levels of playback.

About a year ago I shared my observation that iPod fatigue had settled in. In fact the term is theirs (my students) not mine. They weren't saying they'd give up their iPods -- just that some were bored with them. Even students with tens of thousands of songs on them (most obtained illegally) wanted something new.

These observations might provide some context to the slumping sales of the Apple iPod. There may be many other reasons like the economy, the advent of the iPhone or just a tired line of devices. Still, there seems to be anecdotal evidence that the iPod phenomenon is cooling.

The radio industry has often blamed iPod use for some of its problems. Of course, they would be wrong. When I suggested to these same young people that they might be willing to return to radio for music, the laughter was loud and sustained. They meant no insult. It's just that the idea of radio being useful in their lives is -- well, laughable. My experience is that they don't like commercial radio.

The record business has cried in its corporate beer for a long time because of Steve Jobs and the iPod, but record labels don't stand to benefit from any decline in the use of iPods in the lives of the next generation.

Don't misunderstand me. Young people are not ready to let their iPod batteries die out. They still want portable music that they can control. But, there is growing evidence I have observed that they are beginning to disconnect from their portable music devices in a way that was unthinkable a few years ago.

What they are not willing to do is separate from their laptops and computers.

I can see why Steve Jobs and Apple are selling more laptops than ever before. The laptop may soon be the center of Gen Y's new universe.

One thing they really like and are addicted to is iTunes -- the ability to create playlists, shuffle songs and control their entertainment. I'm almost thinking that iTunes is more magical than the actual portable device. iTunes is the record store. It can replace the radio station as a source of new music. It is an archive.

I've also previously noted that students want to have more say in their entertainment. They want to choose music, edit it -- send it along to others. I am confident they will not be denied in spite of the RIAA's threats or the labels inability to cooperate with the inevitable and make money out of it.

Radio appears to be left out of the future.

Some day, when I'm not the only one in the room with a WiFi radio, the Internet will become a vast resource for the next generation. It will be their radio. Portable streaming devices are becoming available but not on a massive scale.

Terrestrial radio -- caught in cutbacks, consolidation failures and no vision of how to engage the next generation -- is cooked.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Radio operators could go to school on this generation and deliver things that they would like where they live -- which is not near a radio.

1. Intelligent people picking their own music (and maybe even talking about it).

2. Programs that can be time-delayed -- shifted forward, reversed and paused.

3. A way to get their hands on it -- mash it up -- and send it along to others.

4, No commercials, no pre-rolls (that they don't watch anyway), but links to discovery that they may eventually pay for.

The iPod is the most successful portable entertainment device since the Walkman. It has taught a new generation how to avoid the things they loath about traditional media.

But it hasn't taught traditional media even one lesson that it could use going forward -- mainly because radio and records executives do not want to hear about radical change.

The iPod will be around for a long time, but to consider the emerging preferences of the iPod generation -- before it's too late -- can be the ticket of admission into the digital life of the next generation.

Opportunity is again knocking. Will anyone answer this time?

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