September 11, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

At ASU, sunshine, iPods and Razrs

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June 29, 2006
TEMPE, Ariz.--A bronzed Arizona State University student with sun-bleached hair and worn brown sandals stood in the sun outside the crowded student union here last week. "I'm going to the river Monday! Who wants to go?" he yelled. "Meet me right here!"

The sweaty, overheated, iPod-toting populace, however, took no notice; they were too busy making their way from shady spot to shady spot.

"I couldn't walk further than 10 steps on campus without listening to music."
--Ashley Hollinger, ASU sophomore

And such was life at the start of a new school year on the sweltering, sun-drenched ASU campus, where classes kicked off Aug. 21. It was also the beginning of my quest to discover what gadgets are making students tick in the heart of the digital desert, where I am a third-year graduate student in journalism.

Earphones attached to iPods of every size were standard uniform as students walked to class with heads down, tapping text messages on their Razr phones and answering e-mails on their BlackBerrys.

Some students said they use iPods to download lectures or recordings of campus events and presentations. Political-science freshman Jessica Aguilar stays on top of university-wide issues like the horrendous parking situation by downloading ASU President Michael Crow's podcasts onto her black iPod Nano.

"I'm not extremely gadgety, but I do use gadgets to keep me going," she said.

Other students, like one young hip-hop artist, downloaded his original songs into his iPod Nano and used the MP3 player to advertise his music. Standing outside a bagel shop on this campus of 50,000 students, he asked passersby, "Do you like hip-hop?" Then he used his iPod to let people sample his work. Often, sweat had to be wiped off the large noise-canceling headphones as they were passed from person to person.

Ashley Hollinger, a sophomore studying psychology, noticed none of this hip-hop swapping as she sent text messages, did homework on her Mac iBook and listened to her 30GB video iPod at a table nearby.

"I couldn't walk further than 10 steps on campus without listening to music," she said.

Fellow iBook owner Bradley Graupner, a senior in religious studies who swears by his Mac, was writing a paper and soaking up the meager shade afforded him by an oversized umbrella on the student union patio.

He uses his Mac for photo editing, making Web sites, playing videos and downloading music. While in class, taking notes, he swears by his Mac's automatic indexing.

Waving the anti-Apple flag
Many iPod wearers mentioned an easy-to-use interface and lack of viruses, adware and spyware on Macs as the main reasons for their love of everything Apple Computer. But dissenters like aerospace- engineering freshman Bryant Buschman waved their anti-Apple flags with an array of MP3 players and MP3 phones.

When I caught up with him, Buschman had just left his dorm and was enjoying Elton John's "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting," on his 8GB Creative Zen with a green plastic case. "I got it because it's not an iPod," he said.

Since professors don't allow iPods in class, some less studious Sun Devils pass the time in lectures by instant messaging and checking their e-mail. Spencer Keen, a freshman studying business, even confessed to playing video games in class from time to time.

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