AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake It’s no coincidence that personal stereos were first marketed during the 1980s, the decade of the self-centered “me generation.” They caught on immediately and have been big sellers ever since. A spokesman for one of the manufacturers touts the devices for “allowing you total immersion in an audio environment that is totally you.” Another urges prospective buyers to “think of them as a mute button for the world around you.” What’s perhaps most disturbing is that so many of the personal-stereo users are in their teens – or younger – and thus learning in their formative years to avoid interaction with others, sometimes including their school teachers. This is not to say that personal stereos are all bad. Think of how it was before they came along. We were a society on the edge of losing any concept of the right of privacy, not to mention our collective hearing, thanks to the huge transistor radios and portable cassette players known less-than-affectionately as “boom boxes” that rocked us and rolled us at the highest decibel levels on street corners, on public transit vehicles, just about everywhere. Finally, however, even the priests of high technology wearied of the incessant racket they had bestowed on us. That, anyway, jibes with one version of how the personal-stereo was born, and that’s the version I definitely prefer – that Sony Board Chairman Akio Morito ordered his staff to develop what turned out to be the Walkman to spare himself from the loud music favored by his children. Many other parents undoubtedly are grateful to also have been spared. Electronic gimmicks are big again this holiday season. But do all of us a favor this year. Don’t give anyone on your list one of those ever-popular iPods, Walkmen or any other version of a “personal stereo.” We already have far more than enough zombielike creatures with fixed straight-ahead stares and electrical cords dangling from their ears. They ride our buses and subway cars, walk our streets and hiking trails, lie on our beaches, jog down our city streets and country lanes, drive their cars or ride their bicycles among us. They’re plugged in, the lot of them, to the little battery-powered boxes. They hum and sing-along to music we can’t hear. They waggle their heads and snap their fingers to beats we can’t feel. They smile and laugh and frown at words we can’t make out. There are millions of them, apart, alone, passive, isolated in an artificial universe in which they are the center and you are not welcome. “It’s escapism,” a Walkman buyer told a reporter. “I don’t need drugs. I don’t need booze. I put on my headphones and I’m at peace with the world.” Problem is that though personal stereos have generally supplanted boom boxes, they’re still out there, as are the thoughtful folks who drive around with open windows and car radios blaring at top volume – kathunk! kaboom! kathunk! kaboom! And car alarms, of course, shrieking out at all hours, and leaf blowers, and that latest and maybe most irritating noise of all – the trilling ring of cell phones and full-voiced users of same, generously sharing their intimate conversations with us. But while it’s true enough that personal stereos can keep those and other rude sounds of daily life from intruding on us, that’s not enough to justify adding more personal-stereo zombies to the millions already among us. So please listen to me: No iPods, no Walkmen. No personal stereos for Christmas!— Dick Meister is a San Francisco writer. Contact him through his Web site, www.dickmeister.com.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!