Should we think of headphones, then, as just another emblem of catastrophic social decline, a tool that edges us even deeper into narcissism, solipsism, vast unsociability?
The New Yorker recently published a piece about the ubiquity of headphones (and earbuds, although they don’t make that distinction). Amanda Petrusich steers the article to the changes in the music industry based on this rise, but her early concern (in the quote at top) caught my attention.
Are headphones just a tool for unsociability?
Certainly that’s a concern. Even in my days of fast-food work (4 or more years ago), teenagers with their families would be completely absorbed in their phones, cut off by their earbuds. I can’t think that’s a good development.
I wear headphones a lot. If I’m working and not in a meeting, headphones. Doing school, headphones. Exercising, headphones.
And they really matter when I’m out by myself.
I don’t have social anxiety or anything formal like that. But I’m a small, young female. I’m an introvert. If I’m by myself around town, especially in new places, I’m often very nervous and uncomfortable.
Wearing headphones guarantees that I won’t be approached by strangers. It means that I don’t have to fend off guys hitting on me or people asking for money or vendors selling things. None of those people necessarily have ill intent–but I never know that for sure. And even if they don’t, the effort of entering an unexpected conversation is often exhausting. Harrowing.
So headphones: an emblem of social decline?
I don’t think so. Like anything, they can be used in poor ways, but they can also provide a refuge, a little circle of safety that allows some people to traverse the world in ways they might otherwise avoid.
What do headphones mean for you?