I have never seen so many people with headphones and earbuds! Everywhere you look, people have earbuds in (or now Bluetooth headphones). It seems to be sending a message that says “Get out of my space!”
Up until a short while ago, I truly thought people were listening to music and enjoying it, but I have discovered that is only part of the story. I was chatting with a fellow who also travels a lot. He said he hates chatting with people on the plane. Like me, he likes to watch a movie, sleep, read, or work. He said he travels too much to want to strike up a conversation with everyone who sits next to him. He said that his time is precious, so he is either working or relaxing. He then noted, “As soon as I sit down, I put in my earbuds and connect them to my phone. I may not have any music on, but I need to send the message to those around me that I am not interested in chatting.” He claims that, by putting in earbuds, or better yet, headphones, people understand that it is like a “do not disturb” sign on the hotel room door!
A few days later, I saw my 12-year-old daughter packing her earbuds into her school pack. I asked her why she needed to take her ear buds (she does not have a phone, so it is not as though she would be listening to her iPhone, or something at recess or in the car). She pointed out that it is the only way she can cut out the noise and clutter from the “rambunctious and obnoxious boys” in the classroom. She went on to explain that, when the teacher gives them time to work on something at their desks, she connects her earbuds to her laptop. Sometimes she plays music, but it is all in the name of blocking out the sounds and clutter around her, so she can get work done.
The next time you walk through an open concept office, count the number of people with earbuds in (some businesses have outlawed them). The removal of traditional walls between staffers, or in some cases, even cubicle walls, has opened up offices. The goal was to have a freer flow of communication among staff members. But by human nature, staff members have built the walls back up. They are not physical walls, but rather earbuds to block out the sounds and communication between them and other staff members. So much for the great planning of open concepts!
So, are we now living in a world that blocks out those we don’t want to communicate with (be it at work, at home, on the subway, or in a public space) by putting alternate sound into our ears? I am concerned. We need to address this. Look around when you travel to and from work, at work, and at home. Everyone seems to be blocking out others. Like the mobile devices and social media, or as Prince EA calls it “unsocial” media, earbuds are continuing to dissocialize our world. We have shifted from picking up the phone and chatting to sending a text that can be misinterpreted for tone or demeanour. We block people out not by closing a door, but by putting in earbuds. We can “close the door” to people not just from our bedroom or office, but to people sitting right next to us or walking down the street.
I welcome your thoughts and solutions, so we can manage this before it continues to infiltrate our lives!
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