Thursday, October 4, 2007

Pay Attention: More on iPods and Crime

This morning's Marketplace Morning Report on NPR included a report blaming increased crime on popular devices like the iPod.

The report, based on an Urban Institute study (pdf of full report here), suggests that portable music devices and other expensive portable high tech devices are both highly desirable and easy to steal.

There's one more reason why the devices are an invitation to robbery: Those using them aren't paying attention.

On the Marketplace program, economics correspondent Chris Farrell observed, "There was an attraction, it's an expensive item, people walking around aren't necessarily paying attention [emphasis added], and the cost of committing the crime went down."

The same point was made in the abstract for the report, which argues that increased opportunities for crime increase crime:
At the same time that violent crime rates began to rise, America’s streets filled with millions of people visibly wearing, and being distracted by [emphasis added], expensive electronic gear. Thus, there was a marked increase in both the supply of potential victims and opportunities for would-be offenders.

In the full report, the authors, John Roman and Aaron Chalfin, explain why iPods are distracting:

Finally, since iPods transmit sound to both ears, rather than just one in the case of cell phones, iPod users may be less aware of their surroundings than users of other consumer products.

While I question whether people conducting serious conversations on their cell phones are actually aware of their surroundings -- surely if they were they wouldn't be talking about clearly private matters in such loud voices -- the report is right about how much iPods cut off hearing.

The Urban Institute report wants improved crime information, so that authorities can respond to changes in crime patterns as they occur. On Marketplace, Farrell suggested that the manufacturers of expensive, portable high tech devices need to take responsibility for making their products less attractive to thieves.

I'm sure both those things are important, but there's a simpler low tech solution anyone can apply: Don't use your iPod when you need to pay attention to what's going on around you. It is possible to walk down the street without listening to music.

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