The Santa Clara
April 4, 2019
I am curious to know the percentage of college students who walk from class to class wearing headphones—which I am guilty of doing myself. With the rise of Apple AirPods, people who walk around with earbuds has become an increasingly familiar sight. College students transitioning between classes and other duties rely on media to help pass the time. I see this beyond college as well in public areas, such as cafés. Is this bad? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
I would compare this phenomenon to a silent disco, minus the high-energy musical performance. People in the same area wearing headphones, most likely listening to music and fostering silence in the outside atmosphere. Each person has a world to themselves based solely on auditory signal, so what do we share with those around us besides silence?
In our technology-dominated society, we have grown accustomed to less face-to-face encounters and have dedicated a great deal of our attention to communication devices. Smartphones have eased us into this cultural shift. Even when we go out in public, the comfort of our own home has been replaced by the comfort of a phone in our hand or headphones in our ears. We no longer feel obligated to connect with the individuals around us. However, when trying to complete tasks, a phone may be inconvenient to carry and headphones may interfere with mobility. Then came the Apple AirPods, not the first bluetooth earphone invention but arguably the most convenient and intriguing.
Yes, the AirPods allow us to carry on with our lives while being able to listen to our audio of choice, whether it be music, podcasts, radio, etc. They also allow us to disconnect from the real world and remain connected to the digital one in the most hidden manner. We can perform almost every function in the same way with and without the AirPods, and that is why they are so appealing. Still, with this obvious benefit comes a not so obvious cost.
In a silent disco, everyone is enjoying the same music but conversation cannot be exchanged unless you remove the headphones, fully disconnecting from the technology. The same happens when you walk in public with headphones. Certainly, many college students have become used to just removing an earphone or two when they encounter someone they know. But I have seen students ordering at Benson with AirPods in, which is not only disrespectful to the workers but also prevents small connections from forming with the workers or with the people waiting in line. These small connections could happen anywhere, like in an elevator ride or at the bookstore. A short conversation with a stranger may sound uncomfortable but it has the potential to leave you smiling, make your day or provide a new companionship. Once you decide to wear your headphones, turn up the volume, stick your device in your pocket and carry on with your life, you are isolating yourself. Shared experiences are no longer welcome.
The reason why I am writing this is because I am guilty of caging myself within my own world when I listen to music walking from class to class. By doing so, I noticed less attempted conversations but more waves and smiles from my classmates.
Since I am usually not one to start conversation, I feel more comfortable keeping my headphones in rather than taking the time to remove them and begin talking. But I feel conflicted. As the kind of person that could be easily influenced by one exchange, I look forward to all interactions, big or small. I only struggle sometimes to initiate them, and participating in this silent disco culture only worsened my case.
While the simple solution would be to ditch the headphones completely, there’s no denying that it can immediately be done.
A good start would be walking around with just one earphone in, to show you are still available for chatting. There have been many times I awkwardly resorted to waving at my friends in passing because when I see headphones, I assume they only care about getting from place to place. When I see just one earphone in, I know they could easily remove it for a quick chat.
Silence itself is not necessarily bad. Many people value silence but the silence specifically fostered by our attachment to technology is dangerous. We live amongst each other for a reason, and at the most foundational level, that reason is to interact with one another. When we lose connection, we lose so much else. We don’t need to communicate every second of every day but it is beneficial for us and for those around us to keep those opportunities open.
So the disco can play on—no need to say goodbye to the music, the earphones, the devices. Just don’t forget there are people around you with whom you can share the experience.
Annika Tiña is a junior communication major with a minor in mechanical engineering.