I Can't Hear You
"There is only one basic human right, and that is the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty: the duty to take the consequences." - P.J. O'Rourke.
Maybe I've just not been paying enough attention lately, but it has been a while since I've been presented with a good example of our litigious society that makes me crack a smile. Lately, the honor has to go to a one Mr. John Kiel Patterson in San Jose, California, who is suing Apple Computer for hearing damage caused by the iPod.
The runaway success of Apple's portable digital media player means that a case such as this has not been unexpected for a long time; indeed, these days many things that happen in the tech world are boringly expected.
The crux of this case is that when you combine the iPod's ability to crank out a good 115 decibels (about the same amount of noise as a jet aircraft taking off) with the ear bud type headphones that ship with the player, you have a established a sufficient causal connection between the device and deafness to sue. The distinct white earphones that come with all iPods are not overly unique in design - almost every digital media player sold anywhere comes with the same type of ear buds.
These can be dangerous in themselves as the noise is not filtered on its way to the eardrum since the buds are inserted into the ears themselves, unlike a high-quality pair of headphones. Combined with the iPod's ability to crank up tunes to excessively high volumes, you can see where the dangers of hearing loss come from.
But does this mean that Apple, or any of the other media player manufacturers, are responsible for hearing loss or damage caused by the device? The short answer is no.
There is always that one-in-a-million case where an angle can be taken, such as McDonald's famous Hot Coffee incident, but for the most part if an [Snip! -Ed] becomes a deaf [Snip! -Consternated Ed]...person... then Apple can't be blamed. The iPod may be capable of outputting 115 decibels, but it also has a volume control.