There's nothing like a gym to make you wish you were somewhere else. Who really wants to devote part of every day to moving heavy weight across short distances or running on a treadmill?
The experience, basically a contrived replication of manual labor and walking with an actual destination, is inherently tedious. Thus a major part of gym fitness is about dispelling boredom. Most gyms play loud dance music. They place flat-screen televisions in front of aerobic equipment. They hire hot employees.
And many people, of course, carry their cell phones around the gym so they can have immediate interpersonal contact – just not with people in their actual physical vicinity. I've always carried a book or magazine with me. But last week I finally gave in to probably everyone's favorite distraction.
I bought an iPod.
I'm always the last to yield to technological innovation. My TV is literally 25 years old, as is my VCR. I couldn't care less about upgrading to HDTV. I didn't transfer from a manual typewriter to a computer until my therapist insisted. I didn't switch from a PC to a Mac until I lost all my data to viruses – twice. I didn't get a cell phone until I was in Europe and couldn't find pay phones anywhere.
I'm never exactly sure why I resist technological improvement so long. iPods do seem to make people even less communicative than cell phones do. People can usually hear you when they are blathering on a phone. But, with an iPod, most people crank up the volume so loud they can't hear anything else.
A typical experience for me is asking someone if I can work in with them on a machine. They don't acknowledge the request because they are in la-la-land with Britney Spears. Then I tap them on the shoulder, which causes them to pull the speakers out of their ear canals. I feel stupid for coming between them and Britney, even if just momentarily.
And of course this isn't just a gym phenomenon. People everywhere are wired to another reality much of the time. A combination cell phone, Internet browser and camera, like the iPhone, allows you to basically become a visitor in your own world. Your life becomes a collection of souvenirs -- photos, text messages and calls created literally while you pass through your life. The problem is that you're not really present. It's like perusing the shelves of the souvenir shop at the Eiffel Tower without really giving your attention to the tower.
Last week, after a workout, I found an iPod knockoff in the parking lot. I took it home, thinking the owner's name and phone number might be recorded somewhere. I didn't find that. I did find a lot of dance music, show tunes and pictures of a little white fluffy dog, convincing me that the device belonged to a gay man. I listened to some of the music and was amazed by the clarity. The next day, I turned it in to the gym.
But suddenly I wanted an iPod. Actually, I wanted an iPhone, so I could turn my existence into an iLife full of multimedia souvenirs. But that would mean switching to AT&T, which does not provide cell service in the area of Unabomber Acres, our mountain cabin. So I got an iPod Touch, which has most of the features of the iPhone.
I quickly transferred some favorite CDs to the iPod, along with some podcasts from the iTunes site. And I was immediately hooked. It's not that toting books everywhere doesn't provide a distraction, too, but they can't hold a candle to the iPod.
The iPod doesn't require thinking, just personal sensation. So it doesn't slow me up in the gym. In fact, it makes the 30 minutes on a treadmill seem like the timeless experience of trance. It also has the odd effect of making the world and its occupants much sweeter. Listening to Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra while looking over the gym from a treadmill is like watching a movie with a good soundtrack.
So, I've exchanged my life for an iLife. I'm a better person for it, I really am.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For his blog and information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.