Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Earphones: Killer of Public Interaction?

This Blog Was Written By
Kami Sabghir-Frota



There are many forms of verbal and body language that people employ to show respect towards others: I may hold a door open for someone, make eye contact, say hello when passing on the street, say please and thank you. Peculiarly, as I’ve grown older, especially since moving to New York, I have noticed the weight that headphones possess during my daily interactions with people. When I am sitting on the train listening to music and a homeless person or subway performer comes into the car, there is a moment where I decide whether or not to take off my headphones and listen to them or watch the show. There are days where I am too far in my own head that I leave my headphones on, maybe even turn up the volume to drown out the noise. Other days I take them off and embrace the present moment with this new presence on the train. 






Similar encounters happen when someone stops me on the street to ask a question; I may assume they want to sell me something or ask for money, and I just shake my head and keep walking. Or I may decide to take a moment to acknowledge what they actually have to say, because truthfully I cannot know unless I hear them out. Encounters such as these have made me aware of the ways in which we show respect, the ways we acknowledge other people by taking off our headphones, giving up our private world that blocks out our surroundings. 



In Stephen Thompson’s npr article “The Good Listener: When Is It OK To Wear Headphones In Public?” he mentions our desires to “enforced alone time — to put up barriers that shut out distractions, make ourselves appear less approachable to strangers, and close off the world outside our own heads.” 
Earphones allow us to bring the privacy of the home into public spaces. They leave a permanent signal on our heads notifying those around us that we are occupied, absorbed in our own worlds. There is an implicit statement that by wearing headphones we would rather be listening to our music of choice then be engaged in the sounds of the world around us. inearheadphones, in their article “DOES WEARING IN-EAR HEADPHONES MAKE US ANTISOCIAL?” contrasts the ways in which music is listened to now with how it was before the Sony Walkman in 1979. The boomboxes of the 70s engaged the public, encouraging human interaction. Now, as this writer notes, earphones “tell the world, “Go away.”” 


On reddit.com, user AlreadyRegretting2 furthered the intentional isolation caused by public headphone use: “Does anyone else wear ear plugs in public, even though I'm not always listening to anything? It gives me a sense of security, possibly so it looks like I am busy so people won't talk to me. The weird thing is, I enjoy talking to strangers, it's people I know that make me really anxious.” Similar to Thompson’s article, AlreadyRegretting2 brings up the impact of headphones on deterring people from approaching us, however the reddit user specifically takes advantage of ear plugs impact whether or not they are listening to music. Used in such a way, earphones become an extension of our bodies, a new way of indirectly communicating that leaves us void of responsibility to those around us. With our earphones in, we can act as if music is playing, as if we are distracted, even if we may be completely aware of our surroundings. 



What does the pervasiveness of earphone use in public spaces say about how we as people interact with each other? Perhaps more telling, what does earphone use say about our attitudes towards human interaction? With modern technologies and services, we can heavily dictate when and where we engage in face to face human interaction. With headphones privatizing the music experience, creating isolation in the most densely populated places, the decision to remove one’s headphones and engage in personal interactions has become a rarity, the exception to the norm. Removing one’s headphones shows a remarkable interest in our immediate communities and surroundings. 





Sources

https://inearheadphones.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/does-wearing-in-ear-headphones-make-us-antisocial/

https://www.reddit.com/r/socialanxiety/comments/64s909/wearing_headphones_in_public/

https://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2013/08/22/214502387/the-good-listener-when-is-it-ok-to-wear-headphones-in-public