Put it in yah system
April 22, 2009 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Do commuters ever swap ipods on the subway?

A friend of mine in New York told me that he sometimes asks people what they're listening to on his way from Brooklyn to Manhattan which leads to spontaneously switching ipod headphone jacks. He says that sometimes people (often young women, but not as a rule) will ask him to do the same. It doesn't result in a pickup or anything, just a nice change of pace. He's not a particularly gorgeous or gregarious guy, he claims it's just a mild form of neighborliness on NY subways.

Has this ever happened to you, wherever you are?
Have you heard of it happening to others?
Whether this is real or not, how would I go about asking strangers to swap musical worlds with me for my own 30 minute metro ride in the morning?
posted by Potomac Avenue to Human Relations (52 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have never heard of this happening or seen it happen in NYC. Maybe it's an L train thing. And I probably wouldn't let someone I don't know touch my iPod. And considering that I listen to showtunes, they probably wouldn't want to, either.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:14 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have never seen nor heard of this. Between friends, sure. Strangers? Never.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:16 AM on April 22, 2009


It has never happened to me....and I have met a lot of people in the subways over the years.....usually the ones with ipods keeps to themselves and when I am listening to mind I usually dont hear anyone.....they would have to touch me to get my attention and most folks in NYC do not touch strangers
posted by The1andonly at 10:19 AM on April 22, 2009


this has never happened to me. i don't think it's an L train thing either, because i take the L.
posted by millipede at 10:26 AM on April 22, 2009


I've been riding the F every work day for two years, commuting Brooklyn to Manhattan, and almost always listening to my ipod zune. I have never done this, seen anyone do this or thought to ask to do this.
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:27 AM on April 22, 2009


I think this is a really amazing idea - what if there was some sort of Intarnet Movement to make music-sharers visible to one another?

Like, say, we all put a button with some logo on our coats/bags and whenever two people meet, if they decide to exchange, they both unplug their headphones and plug into the stranger's.

There'd have to be some sort of agreed-upon rules, though, like you always hold on to your own ipod, you always use your own headphones, etc. I don't want to lose my cute little nano to some jerkoff with a broken first-gen behemoth.
posted by harperpitt at 10:27 AM on April 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


Never happened to me either. Although I've definitely contemplated it when hearing something decent leaking out of someone's headphones.

It (probably) can't hurt to try asking someone if they want to swap. I wouldn't try it on a crowded train though, or you might have someone try and walk between you, potentially causing damage to ears and ipods alike.
posted by langeNU at 10:27 AM on April 22, 2009


That's gotta be during semi-drunk commutes between east village and williamsburg when hip kids are traveling to/fro shows or something. I can't imagine that in ordinary situations. Most people have ipods precisely to avoid contact with whoever else is on the subway.
posted by mdn at 10:28 AM on April 22, 2009


Also, Potomac Avenue, I'm in DC too...you ever on the 16th St bus lines?
posted by harperpitt at 10:29 AM on April 22, 2009


I read a NYT story about this away back in the '00s, when iPods were first becoming ubiquitous. Even then I assumed it was mostly apocryphal.
posted by muddgirl at 10:29 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


This happened to me on the DC metro once! We only switched for a minute, though, not the whole train ride.
posted by amarynth at 10:30 AM on April 22, 2009


I did this back in 2003 when I was visiting NYC. Was standing next to a cute girl in one of the trains, asked her what she was listening to, then suggested that we switch jacks. We each listened to one another's music for a couple minutes -- I think her's was Tricky, I forget what I was listening to... probably Pinback or Throwing Muses.

I never knew anyone else did this. It was more of a spur of the moment type thing. Haven't done it since.
posted by bengarland at 10:32 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have never heard this. And while I'm wide open to conversations with strangers during transport, having someone I don't know ask to handle whatever expensive little gadget I have would be most unwelcome. iPods are like the most commonly ripped off item ever, I don't want people on the train drawing attention to mine.
posted by hermitosis at 10:38 AM on April 22, 2009


I remember reading about this somewhere. There was a newspaper article talking about it like it was a new trend. I would guess this was at least three years ago. I've never actually seen or heard it happen in real life.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:47 AM on April 22, 2009


harperpitt: The buttons thing is a great idea...I am wondering about this precisely because I'd like to see more community-building in real life and was considering starting a intranet movement (lol), declaring May National Share Your Ipod Month or something.

That said if I rode the bus there ain't no way I'm talking to nobody.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:51 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I take the D every day from Brooklyn, and I've never seen this happen or heard about it.

Rush hour is just about the least friendly time on the subway, since everyone's busy and tired and the train is packed and the best way to deal with this is to zone everyone else out. This is what iPods etc. are for--they're not for making friends. If you're going to strike up a conversation with someone you don't know, do it some other time.

But as others said, maybe the hipster trains are different. It could be that there are people who go around swapping headphone jacks when they aren't mentally drafting missed connection posts about the cute guy/girl they saw get off at Union Square. But I doubt it.
posted by goingonit at 10:51 AM on April 22, 2009


I've never seen or heard of this. One of those OMG-hipsters-suck articles described "L train iPod wars," wherein people would show each other their iPod screens to compete over who was listening to cooler music. That's the closest thing I've ever heard of.
posted by doift at 10:51 AM on April 22, 2009


Haven't had it happen but I also remember reading about this a few years ago. Isn't there a name for it? Like "podjacking" or something?
posted by quarterframer at 10:52 AM on April 22, 2009


I have neither seen, heard or participated in this.
posted by spec80 at 10:52 AM on April 22, 2009


I've done it a few times (don't remember which train), but I have a lot of weird stuff on my iPod, and I wasn't really into the other person's iPod either...
posted by qvtqht at 10:57 AM on April 22, 2009


Someone will at some point get wireless headphones right, and everyone will migrate to wireless headphones. Imagine the possibilities. An obvious application will be an option for your iPod to be "open" so that anyone in range can listen in.
posted by ezola at 10:58 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Never seen it happen either. I go to work on the 6 train.
posted by gaspode at 10:58 AM on April 22, 2009


I have heard of this but have never seen it.

As a rule of thumb, if a stranger begins talking to me on the subway or street in New York City its a scam unless proven otherwise.
posted by wcfields at 11:00 AM on April 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


I used to hear of this a lot, back before iPods had proliferated all that much. It was supposedly a "thing" among iPod owners to plug in to each others iPods. However, I only ever read about it (usually in magazine and newspaper articles about these newfangled iPod things) and have never witnessed it actually happen.
posted by synecdoche at 11:05 AM on April 22, 2009


I did this a couple times, probably on the 6 or the A.

But that was years ago when iPods were new/novel/unusual, and it was more a "Hey wow, someone else with an iPod, we have some kind of Apple-fangirl connection here..."
posted by rokusan at 11:06 AM on April 22, 2009


Nice timing. As Synecdoche sez.
posted by rokusan at 11:06 AM on April 22, 2009


I've never seen this on the DC metro.

Someone will at some point get wireless headphones right, and everyone will migrate to wireless headphones. Imagine the possibilities. An obvious application will be an option for your iPod to be "open" so that anyone in range can listen in.

Except the RIAA would immediately try to shut this down.

posted by inigo2 at 11:07 AM on April 22, 2009


When I was a campus rep for Apple, this was one of the social ideas we tried to promote in our universities. I'm sure that there is a chunk of 23-28 year olds that still do this.
posted by idiotfactory at 11:13 AM on April 22, 2009


quarterframer: I found some references to that word but the earliest NYT article mentions it only in the briefest possible way.

If anyone finds a better source about this please to post (not that a NYT article about a trend has any more credibility than my single piece of anecdotal evidence).

idiotfactory: Huh, neat. I'm a victim of marketing, hooray! Any info on specifically how you promoted the idea?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:15 AM on April 22, 2009


I am writing my dissertation about listening practices in the New York City subway. This happens. There was a Wired article about it in 2003. The term used was "jack sharing".
posted by billtron at 11:22 AM on April 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


I have never seen anything like this in my five years of riding the L train. The closest I've seen to it was once, on the six train, when two clean-cut young people were sitting across from each other and smiling, making eyes at each other. As they both got up to leave the train at the same stop, the young lady took out her earbuds, and the young man asked "What were you listening to?" They both seemed nervous and adorable.

If I had to hazard a rather uncharitable guess, I'd say it happened to your friend once, and he extrapolated that incident to the idea that it happens on a semi-regular basis, as a way of building a "mythology of coolness" about his life in New York.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:26 AM on April 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


This may not be completely relevant to the question but when I lived in the Bay Area I would take the Ashby to Civic Center BART often and music sharing was pretty common amongst people in the teens-20’s age range. This may be because Californians are typically more gregarious than New Yorkers. One day I was on a bus in SF and a kid sat down next to me and told me he was a DJ and that I had to listen to his stuff, he had a split jack on his iPod so we could listen together. After I listened he handed me his card, told me to call him if I needed a DJ, and got off at the next stop.
posted by toni_jean at 11:54 AM on April 22, 2009


Yeah, you know, I withdraw my uncharitable guess -- maybe this really does happen to your friend a lot, I just ain't ever seen it. If it is confined to a certain few trains, I'd be curious to know which ones.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:58 AM on April 22, 2009


Never happened or seen it happen in my 9 years in NYC. Every once in a while, however, I will secretly wish someone would ask me. Particularly during the hoedown that is "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."
posted by yeti at 12:03 PM on April 22, 2009


I only did this once on the bus in Seattle, where a stranger wrote a country song for a jingle contest, and wanted feedback on it. Despite it not being my cup of chai, it was actually a good song, and I told him that.

However, the vast majority of the time, earbuds in means 'no, do not talk to me'.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:03 PM on April 22, 2009


I'm a pretty friendly dude. But if anyone on the subway asked to "borrow" my iPod, I'd be all No Way Jose (NWJ).
posted by GilloD at 12:09 PM on April 22, 2009


Billtron: Could you say more? Does it still happen or was it an early days of ipod phenomenon?

Greg: An even more uncharitable guess would be that this does happen, but much less than online information might indicate. Who knows if posts like this one from 2003 are real or some viral marketing campaign? Then are people coming up with the idea on their own or imitating what they THINK is a real trend because they read the NYT or Wired?

In the end who cares? If it doesn't happen, it should, and if possible I'd revive the lie to gain the opportunity to experience the world of my fellow train-rider for a minute or two.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:19 PM on April 22, 2009


I am writing my dissertation about listening practices in the New York City subway. This happens. There was a Wired article about it in 2003. The term used was "jack sharing".

Though, that article specifically gives examples of acquaintances in smaller neighborhoods or on campuses, and says that when the author tries it in NY, he gets 50% "dirty looks", and concludes that it's not a "native activity" here. ANd he never tries it on the subway.

I'm sure it does happen from time to time, but I'd bet it's largely because people a) read articles like this and b) are in a fun mood on a late-eve social trip, not when they're commuting to work or something.
posted by mdn at 12:21 PM on April 22, 2009


Back in 2003 and 2004 iPods were still novelty items in NYC. People were very conspicuous in their consumption of the machines than they are now that they have saturated the market. Jack sharing was a way to demonstrate your aural coolness, akin to inviting someone home to see your record collection or inviting someone to a secret rave. This was also the time when companies began manufacturing white earbuds in earnest, the Spring Street station was covered in iPod advertisements, and news reports about iPod thefts first appeared.

Back then, on my commute on the 2/3 practically the only people who had iPhones were college-age white kids. Everyone else was still using portable CD players. Now everyone has some sort of iPod or shuffle with them and I rarely see anything else. I think it's very telling that the waning of "jack sharing" roughly corresponds with the diversification of iPod users.
posted by billtron at 12:34 PM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


my apologies. I meant iPods, not iPhones.
posted by billtron at 12:34 PM on April 22, 2009


Regarding the campus rep marketing, my AE emailed me one day after he heard about "jack sharing" and wanted me to try and make it popular on my campus. It only took a week before all the reps at their campuses had to promote the same idea. It wasn't so much to get people to buy an iPod, but more to build a community and thus enforce brand loyalty. The idea morphed from there and some people threw iPod DJ parties where everyone would get a turn playing 3 favorite songs from their iPods at parties. Because of events like this, I can no longer tolerate Coldplay or The Postal Service. In summary, jack sharing started out pretty small but got a boost from various reps pushing the idea on campus. In reality, I haven't seen anyone do this in years.
posted by idiotfactory at 12:36 PM on April 22, 2009


A friend of mine in Paris tried to singlehandedly start this movement. Participants would be denoted by a green tag of some sort on your headphone wire.
posted by LolaGeek at 12:42 PM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


"But as others said, maybe the hipster trains are different. It could be that there are people who go around swapping headphone jacks when they aren't mentally drafting missed connection posts about the cute guy/girl they saw get off at Union Square. But I doubt it."

This is one of the funniest things I've heard in some time.

That being said, since in my experience most people who take public transit are either 1) crazy or 2) want to be left alone, I've always resisted the urge to ask people what they're listening to out of concerns for my safety or fear of annoyance.
posted by elder18 at 1:26 PM on April 22, 2009


Never saw this or heard anyone doing this on the subway in real life.

However, I saw a commercial where a group of fun n' flirty girls hop onto the subway. The funnest and flirtiest of the group spies a tortured-but-sexy hipster guy on the car with an iPod. Either the guy or the girl had just gotten over TERRIBLE acne (read: one pimple) using Teen Acne Product. The girl went over to the guy and put her headphones into his iPod. Then they got off the train together. Maybe your friend saw this commercial?
posted by thebazilist at 1:32 PM on April 22, 2009


Never seen this commuting on public transpo in SF, but if you're interested, here's a facilitating gadget: Belkin RockStar .
Connect 5 sets of headphones to a single iPod (or other player) and have your own little silent dance party! or two iPods and 4 sets of headphones, and the two iPods playing can crossfade/DJ.
posted by bartleby at 1:45 PM on April 22, 2009


I thought this was the whole point of the 'squirting' feature of the Zune... transfer a song you like to someone else in order to share it with them...
posted by Wild_Eep at 2:43 PM on April 22, 2009


I have never heard of this, and frankly this is one of my worse nightmares. I really don't want other people to know the crap that I listen to. I'm a professional musician for Christsake!
posted by ob at 4:05 PM on April 22, 2009


I lived in Brooklyn when iPods were becoming popular and I often took the "hipster" trains. I never saw this, heard of it, or ever had it cross my mind. If someone on public transit wanted to touch or see my iPod, I would think they were trying to steal it.
posted by bradbane at 5:17 PM on April 22, 2009


I have a splitter for my iPod headphone jack. Usually use it for my kids to listen along. I have been on a plane where the guy next to me asked what I was listening to. When I told him live Dead and the show (San Diego circa 1970) he asked to listen. I plugged in my splitter and we both rocked to Jerry and Bob for a while before he fell asleep after buying me two drinks as a thank you. Never happened before or since. Never seen it happen on the 4 train either.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:48 PM on April 22, 2009


When Sony introduced the first cassette Walkman they were worried that portable audio wouldn't take off because it was too anti-social. The first Walkman model had two headphone jacks so that you could share with a friend.

Personally I think that would be a nice feature to add to iPods.
posted by The Wig at 6:56 AM on April 23, 2009


One time here in Atlanta on the train I finally saw someone else with a Zune. I tried to send him some music as a little "hello." He rejected it and that was that.

Funny that people are liking this idea, cause this is EXACTLY what Microsoft was going for with the Zune. Oh well. Still a nice little player.
(Not trying to start some blah versus blegh thing...lets all just enjoy our music)
posted by toekneebullard at 7:00 AM on April 23, 2009


Swapping CD players with a guy on the Chinatown bus between NYC and Boston was how I was introduced to Prefuse 73. I had totally forgotten until this post!

(I think Icotec's Microscope was in the off-brand Discman I lent him...)
posted by en forme de poire at 8:04 PM on May 4, 2009


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