Building Walls with Ear Buds!

Building Walls with Ear Buds!

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!

© 2018. All rights reserved.


  1. Hi Brent; awesome post! I’ve seen the same trend, and I even do it in my “open office space” (a concept erroneously based on one’s role or position with companies instead of based on any assessment of how each individual on the team works best) as I don my headphones sometimes, I let people know aloud that I’m “going into my office” because I have to concentrate. Granted, you and I both know I’m not doing what I *should* be doing for a living, so my discontent particularly with those tasks that push me “against my grain” requiring my devoted attention, will result in stress – which results in behaviours.

    I think this “ear bud coping mechanism” is a symptom of a problem, rather than the problem itself. I believe that our behaviours tell a story – and behind the “putting walls up” behaviour is the underlying, powerful story of over-stimulated, overwhelmed, drained people who aren’t resting, they have too many “tabs” open in their brains, and have to self discipline to find any space in their thoughts. We struggle to tune in to the world, when what we need is to tune out. In the new world order, tuning out time is not even carved into our days – we are expected to be connected 24/7.

    One possible solution is instead of insisting everyone has to cope with the same level of stimulation, the same way – we could embrace our differences and work with (rather than against) the fact that not everyone can have all their “tabs” open on their brain browser. Not everyone can do their best work, all day, in open office space – maybe some can, but some need a quiet reprieve. Not everyone can strike up another conversation with another stranger. That doesn’t make them rude or unfriendly necessarily – they’re just sending out a signal that they need to cope the best way they know how, in a world that is going so fast, some are white knuckling their way through it. Or they’re addicted to Candy Crush. Also entirely possible. 🙂 but I think there’s something deeper here. We need to carve out tune-out time in school and work, and better yet, realize that some of us need those boundaries of self-protection, a bit more than others. I still talk to people with headphones on, and most are polite enough to remove a bud, engage a bit, and then sometimes they end up in full engagement with me, or they retreat. I respect that’s where they’re coming from, even though I’m as excitable as a squirrel and love meeting new people – not everyone is wired for that. They’ve gone wireless. LOL

  2. Rri,
    Hey so great to hear from you. I agree… the problem is deeper than the walls. It is about bombarding, over stimulation, lack of time to process thought etc. You nailed it. Each of us need to manage in our own individual way and pacuh back, I think, in our own way.

    Thanks for reading and the post. I hope to connect again soon. Brent


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This