Headphones

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A socially acceptable “I’m ignoring you device”.

If you are reading this on a computer, a tablet or your phone there is an excellent chance that you are wearing, or within arm’s reach of, a pair of headphones or earphones.

To visit a modern office place is to walk into a room with a dozen songs playing simultaneously but to hear none of them. Up to half of the employees in an institution listen to music on their headphones/earphones, and the vast majority thinks it makes us better at our jobs. Researchers report with confidence that music makes us happier, better at concentrating, and more productive.

The triumph of headphones is that they create, in a public space, an oasis of privacy

Ever wondered why do so many people at work have headphones?

Economic answer: The general economy has moved from a farming/manufacturing economy to a service economy, and more jobs “demand higher levels of concentration, reflection and creativity.” This leads to a logistic answer: With 70 percent of office workers in cubicles or open work spaces, it’s more important to create one’s own cocoon of sound. That brings us to a psychological answer: There is evidence that music relaxes our muscles, improves our mood, and can even moderately reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. What music steals in acute concentration, it returns to us in the form of good vibes.

That brings us finally to our final cultural answer: Headphones give us absolute control over our audio-environment, allowing us to privatize our public spaces. This is an important development for dense office environments in a service economy. But it also represents nothing less than a fundamental shift in humans’ basic relationship to music.

The purpose of the headphone is to concentrate a quiet and private sound in the ear of the listener. Earphones did for music what writing and literacy did for language. They made it private.

Loneliness is one of the first things ordinary beings spend their money achieving.

My headphones are a personal “Don’t disturb Message.”

The price of self-determination and self-reliance has often been loneliness. Humans generally have always been willing to pay that price. It is easy, and therefore popular, to say that headphones make us anti-social. Money can buy — and modern technology can deliver — the independence that people have always sought. People have always had private thoughts. Headphones have the capacity to make our music like our thoughts. Something that nobody else can hear. Something we can choose to share.

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Personal music devices change our relationship to public spaces. People like to control their environment. Music is the most powerful medium for thought, mood and movement control. Currently with the urban space, the more it’s inhabited, the safer one feels. We are in an error where we feel safe if we can feel people there, but we don’t want to interact with them.”

“Minding our own business” so we call it.

“Headphones on world off!”

Personal music creates a shield both for listeners and for those walking around us. Headphones make their own rules of etiquette. We assume that people wearing them are busy or oblivious, so now people wear them to appear busy or oblivious — even without music. Wearing soundless headphones is now a common solution to productivity blocks. In a wreck of people and activity, two plastic pieces connected by a wire create an aura of privacy.

Sound and work what’s the connection?

Headphones carve privacy out of public spaces. Music causes us to relax and reflect and pause. The outcome of relaxation, reflection, and pausing won’t be captured in minute-to-minute productivity metrics. In moments of extreme focus, our attention beams outward, toward the problem, rather than inward, toward the insights. When our minds are at ease — when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain — we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward,” Jonah Lehrer.

A headphone is a small invisible fence around our minds — making space, creating separation, helping us listen to ourselves.

Guest Post by Dorine Ater – C.E.O and Writer at Pearls Agency.