Headphones are very similar to chewing gum. Most people use them, a lot carry them in their pockets or purses, some claim they’re bad for you and many find them incredibly annoying and often disrespectful. America’s infatuation with headphones reflects a fascinating new desire shared by many citizens to remain unperturbed by boredom, inconveniences, and undesirable social interaction. The saying “headphones in, world out” has gained popularity among young people recently, and unfortunately for the headphone loving anti-social portion of our population “world out” is not a very sound policy for a thoughtful society. The widespread use of headphones in public environments, although comforting to some, is incredibly detrimental to the members of the American public because it limits intellectual growth and renders potentially meaningful interactions with strangers impossible. The numbness created by a head full of sound is yet another result of the increasing mindlessness and tragic monotony created by society’s dependence on technology with a dwindling regard for real human interaction.
Young people are often criticized for their dependence on technology. Typically this form of constant stimulation is just a bit light fun that can actually be beneficial. Time on the internet can make one more socially conscious, expose people to new and interesting individuals, and help rekindle and maintain existing friendships. Those attributes are what makes the internet a great place, however aimless phone usage should remain an activity done when one is alone, bored and sees no more valuable way to occupy themselves. Scrolling through social media platforms or listening to music in public directly limits social interaction. Headphones are a particularly nasty enabler of this stifling behavior. Many headphone users are introverts who use earbuds as a means to avoid talking to other people. Others use them as a distraction or simply an excuse to listen to good music. Although many have valid excuses for numbly walking through life with a constant stream of music entering their brain, frequent headphone users are missing out on much more valuable experiences. Consequently, these individuals face few challenges throughout the day simply because they have the option to avoid arguments, altercations, and even casual rudeness. This is a major issue. Growth does not result from avoidance of discomfort. The ability to simply pop in some earbuds when faced with minor difficulties teaches individuals to be passive, and that passivity can be detrimental because it does not allow people to establish themselves through confrontation. Headphones can also prevent people from positive interactions with amiable strangers. In the case of Julie Klausner cited in “My Headphones, My Self”, a New York Times article by Jacob Bernstein, A sweet interaction with an old woman on a train would have been completely avoided had Klausner remembered her headphones. A similar instance is discussed in the LA Times article “Throw Away Your Earbuds, Boredom is Good” when the author, Roscrans Baldwin, enjoys observing the interactions among individuals during his daily routine. He laughs at ridiculous overheard discussions and even enjoys his morning jog, a feat thought impossible by many. I myself decided to ditch the headphones while snowboarding recently and found my ability to listen and observe the mountains and trees incredibly rejuvenating. I also made polite and entertaining conversation on the chairlifts with people from all over the world. I shared pleasant and enlightening conversation with people from Argentina, Texas, Utah, Chicago and many other interesting places, and those simple talks left me feeling joyful all day. These positive experiences familiarize us with our fellow humans, and that familiarization would likely lead to a decline in the cynicism exhibited by a decent amount of young people. Becoming familiar with citizens outside your chosen group of followers can also open your eyes to different people from all walks of life and their unique experiences, and the value of that cannot be measured.
Young people think they’re good communicators. However, that’s not something measured in Snapchat streaks or Facebook friends. Real communication is the basis of humanity. However, since the strength of our communication now depends on the strength of our wifi, will internet connection soon become the basis on which we build our entire lives? Real communication among strangers is desperately needed during daily life, however it does not seem as if those white buds are disappearing anytime soon, and who knows what implications the current dearth of personal communication could hold.