Tuesday, March 22, 2005


IPods banned in Sydney school for breeding “social isolation”

So it’s not like this is the first we’re hearing of The Fear that technology will destroy the fabric of all social life. But it’s the first we’ve heard of a school actually banning iPods as a result of that fear. Students attending Syndney, Australia’s private International Grammar School are being asked either to leave the white gadgets at home, or to place them in a locked drawer during the duration of the school day — because they enable students to “avoid communication with others” and may lead to “social isolation or escape from our community.” Somehow we doubt teenagers’ desire to escape from the community originated with the iPod, and we also doubt there will be a mass communication breakdown no matter how much they turn up the Zeppelin. But hey, now the students can bond over how much this ban sucks, and that’s community right there, folks.

And the ludicrous nature of our world continues..... I mean really!

Hat Tip: Engadget

Update #1

More on the Ban:

A private school in Australia has banned its pupils from listening to their iPods. The yuppie consumer gadget will not be permitted in class, because it encourages kids to be selfish and lonely, according to the school principal. That's the perfect preparation for the life of David Brent-style bullshit and self-deception that lies ahead of them, you'd think, but amazingly, the principal of the International Grammar School has higher hopes for her brood.

Principal Kerrie Murphy noticed that iPod-toting children were isolating themselves into a cocoon of solipsism.

"People were not tuning into other people because they're tuned into themselves," she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Meanwhile, the school teachers' quango for the district is sitting on the fence.

"It's an emerging issue for schools," was the best a rather hopeless Geoff Newcombe could offer. He's the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools in New South Wales, and if this is the best he can do, he should retire gracefully. ('Emerging' is a very flexible word these days, and in this case it means "someone has to deal with this eventually - don't shoot me!")

Banning fashion items is of course the school's historical duty, but you have to admit that Principal Murphy has a point. Apple's advertising for the iPod makes a virtue of people dancing on their own, locked up in a private world only they understand. And what can this lead to, but anti-social values later in life?

How? Because every second spent with an iPod is an opportunity lost.

Take one example. Riding back from the Sunset tonight on a busy MUNI bus, the 71 that goes through Haight, a guy got on with a tripod - a very unassuming and busy guy. The sweet girl opposite, who was with three friends, struck up a conversation with him. The bus trundled on and on, as MUNI does, but these strangers were getting on really well. And when they got off, he picked up his tripod and got off the bus with them, having found ... who knows what? This could be the best thing that ever happened to them both. We just don't know. But they certainly appeared to have the faculties to look after each other really well, so we could wind forward ten years and discover a couple with beaming kids who still look after each other very nicely. Isn't it nice when that happens?

But it wouldn't have happened at all, if they'd been locked up in their private worlds, in their respective private iPod torments. For sure, if these iPod people might also be Blog people: they could have gone home alone, and broadcast these near misses on their weblogs, or posted hopeful messages to the tiny classified "Close Encounters" sections of newspapers, or Craigslist. But neither would have been alive with the possibilities of you know, actually getting laid.

Which brings us to the broader point of what "openness" - a value often-toted by Internet evangelists - really means. Openness for one person can mean shutting off every one else, and all their irritating mannerisms and annoying opinions. Freedom, in practice, is a case of how much you want to indulge the ego.

What Principal Murphy seems to be saying is very straightforward.

These ego-centric "social minimizers", for want of a better word, like the iPod and the Blog, are really like the little sick notes that us nerds or bookish types used to create to get out of some strenuous physical exercise at school. They nevertheless define and limit all the possibilities we have on offer to us. So socially, they're really rubbish - no more than expensive dongles, and only good for avoiding girls and boys we can have fun with. It's simple common sense.

Whether you're sharing a jar of water in Zaire or in a tent in Armenia, you know that music, not the physical process of transferring bits, is what's really important. Music's potency to express the metaphysical, or emotions beyond language, is universally understood, wherever you go. At which point we can mark off the technologies we're expected to use - they pop up every day - as either useful, or useless.

Principal Murphy is about to be the most pilloried "Luddite" in the world, but deep down, you know she's right. Far from being a draconian adminstrator, she's simply encouraging her pupils to get laid, and be happy. And surely a tiny part of you really wants her to win, doesn't it?

Hat Tip: Dvorak Uncensored

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