Wednesday, April 11, 2012

From Playlist to Paylist: iPods, iPhones, and the iNertia of Cohabitation

I’ve always been into music. You didn’t ask but my tastes are very eclectic if you’d like to know. My father, who passed on last year, was a geek before the word was popular. He was an electrical engineer with a pocket protector, but on top of that, he was into music—playing it (piano, organ) and listening to it with top-of-the-line audio equipment. That means I grew up around great speakers, tape players, and high quality turntables. (You could call the latter “record players” but seriously, we called them turntables. They sort of looked like things you’ll see some Hip Hop bands using now-a-days, in case you’ve never seen one.)

What would have been unimaginable when I was growing up was the mp3 player. When I was little, the closest things we had to something small you could carry around and listen to were transistor radios. A 9 transistor radio was a sign of impressive technology, back then. “Wow, bummer Tim, but it looks like you only have 6 transistors.”

The revolution in music listening, for me, came when mp3 players were out for a while and I realized you could pack a lot of music onto the little things and stick it in your pocket and have it with you wherever you went.

It was obvious to me, from even early on, that there was inertia built into whatever pathway one chose into digital music. Early decisions could take on a lot of weight in terms of how you’d be listening to music (and how much you’d pay) years and years later, or how often you’d have to re-rip your CDs or rebuy your mp3 songs. I resisted iPods for a long time for three reasons. First, I just didn’t want to be assimilated into the Borg. You had to commit to the Apple eco-system to get the most out of iPods. I was a PC guy then and really still am (though, geek that I am, I also have a MacBook, and I like it. For a little PC Mac humor, see my past entry here.)

Second, being into PCs more than Macs, I went with Microsoft’s commitment to the WMA format. Apple and iPods used the AAC format, and you could not play the files from one system in the other (for the most part). Third, I had always thought, and still do, that there are some non-iPod players that just sound better than any iPod device o iPhone ever made—like just about any model Sony mp3 player, for example. I will spare you the technical reasons why this is true.

I finally succumbed to iPod and now iPhone; not because of sound quality but because of ease of use.


I and my colleagues have been working with a theory of what’s risky about cohabitation prior to marriage. It goes like this: all other things being equal, compared to dating without cohabiting, if two people are sharing one address, they will have a harder time breaking up, even if the relationship has serious weaknesses or problems. The reason is that cohabitation has more inertia than dating but not cohabiting. Whether or not one believes it is right to live together outside of, or before, marriage is determined by values and religious beliefs. That’s not my topic in this post. I’m focusing here on inertia, here.

Inertia is a great concept from physics speaking to the amount of energy it would take to move something a different direction than it’s already going (or to get an object at rest moving at all). I and my colleagues (especially Galena Rhoades) have been testing just about every prediction we can related to the theory of inertia and cohabitation. We have consistent, extensive evidence for it. What about cohabitation creates inertia? I’m not going to take space to give you a list, but just pause for a moment and think about it. Really. Just take a minute. You’ll think of a lot of things that can make it harder to break up after a couple moves in together and lives together for a while.

An easy way to think of why inertia matters comes from thinking about two different types of commitment: Dedication and Constraint. The inertia problem with cohabitation comes from the fact that too many couples increase their constraints for staying together before they fully have clarified their mutual dedication to be together. That gets to why, for example, we have predicted and found, over and over again, that couples who wait until marriage or at least engagement (or some other serious, mutual, public plans to marry) report, on average, more marital happiness, less conflict, more compatibility, and on and on. [For those who believe that one should not cohabit before marriage, engaged or not, realize that I’m focusing here on one of the major explanations for why cohabitation can be a risky, not making a recommendation for how to cohabit before marriage.]


Okay, to repeat. I’m a geek. I read the computer magazines regularly and I read a lot about the stuff on the web. I was delighted this week to come across a wonderful article where a real tech writer likened her experiences with her iPhone to all the points I made above about relationships. The author’s name is Marguerite Reardon, and you can read her whole article here. Please check it out after you finish reading tis post. I’m going to give you a few quotes from her write-up.

She writes:

But sadly now I’m feeling a bit stuck with Apple. I’d like to check out other smartphone platforms, but doing so is going to require some work on my part. Like many who have been sucked into Apple’s clutches, it was innocent in the beginning. . . . Initially, I didn’t realize the commitment I was making. I didn’t think about the fact that I was locking myself into a platform for the rest of my life. But with each new product I bought from Apple, the deeper I fell into the borg. And now I feel like it would be painful to break up with Apple. Not because I love the products or company so much, but because it would be a huge pain in the butt to transfer all my stuff to a new platform. (used by permission)

This is a great definition of what I now officially dub iNertia.

iNertia = That effort it would take to move all your stuff to a new platform.

You moved in with iPhone? How much effort would it take to move out and move in with Android? (I do suspect an Android might be better at doing the things around the home you hate to do.) Or to move to, or back to, Windows Mobile?

And now for my favorite lines in Marguerite Reardon’s piece:

It reminds me of my mother’s relationship advice: Never move in with a boyfriend before you’re married. Not only will you not have any place of your own to go when you have a fight, but when you start combining your lives before you’ve really made that life-long commitment to marriage, it’s much harder to break up if things don’t work out. It starts feeling more like a divorce than a run-of-the-mill break-up.

This is a smart woman with a smart mom. I bet her mom has a pocket protector. She has to, since she has such an excellent grasp on prevention. I can’t really sum up what inertia says any better than that. She gets how iNertia has built up around her use of iPhones, iPods, and the whole Mac ecosystem, and she gets how this is exactly how some people get on the wrong path with this or that partner in life.

Think about romantic relationships before marriage. Metaphorically, what in romantic life has the same type of implications as the path one is on in terms of music format choices, device options, and an ever expanding list of apps? Don’t just think about cohabitation. Cohabitation is just the easiest way to explain inertia as it affects developing romantic relationships. There are many other aspects of how relationships develop that have the same effects. Can you see them? Are you living them?

If you are looking for the love of your life, you don’t have to be assimilated by the Borg. You can at least keep it from happening by accident.

NOTE: If you’d like a more formal review of our research on cohabitation and inertia, see the link at the left of this page (under “Linkage”) for a document you can download that reviews our published studies. It’s the “summary of our research on cohabitation” link. We have a lot more coming in the pipeline.