I was on the subway the other evening and noticed a young man pull out of his messenger bag what looked like a small laptop. I watched him plug in a set of headphones, drop in a silver disc, and then settle in to his seat. I realized that it was a portable DVD player and that he was probably watching a movie on his commute home. It made me think of personal safety issues and electronics in public spaces.
In New York, it used to be fairly rare that you would see someone with an iPod on the subways. A couple of years ago they were quite expensive and high status devices — the white little box and the white earbuds really stood out in public. I used to feel kind of nervous pulling out my mini iPod, but now I think nothing of it. On a regular morning commute you see dozens of them in each subway car.
People getting mugged a couple of months ago for their iPods did not seem to deter straphangers from donning their white earbuds, after a brief surge in sales of black headphones.
Subway riders often play with their high-end cell phones, writing text messages or playing games. Those devices can run you several hundred dollars. Others click around their PDAs, which also can cost hundreds of dollars. You don’t hear about people getting beat up for those.
Folks tend not to flash their high-end cameras, probably because anyone carrying their camera on the train is likely a tourist. And all tourists who aren’t from outer Oegadougou know that New York subways are dangerous. Not to mention that no one likes getting their picture taken on the train by a stranger.
By the way, that’s one of the reasons I got one of these.
But seeing someone with what looked like a laptop on the subway was really surprising to me. I have long wished that I had could whip out my laptop for long subway rides to JFK or Flushing, but never felt right about it. My iBook “Lucky” is a major part of my distributed intelligence network (my girlfriend Cindy being the other major node). I can be fairly stupid without Lucky and Cindy near me.
I think what this means is that portable DVD players have gotten cheap enough to risk brandishing in public. Not long ago they were close to $1,000, but now you can search on Froogle or Techbargains and find them for under $200. That seems to be the around the price point for public display of electronics. Closer to $500 and people get ansy.
In other cities I’m sure the personal safety concerns are totally different. In Singapore you could probably wear all of your digital devices around your neck on the train at 1am and not even think about it. But I’m guessing in most major cities the personal safety calculus is around the same.