Everyone in New York City wears headphones. (Perhaps they do this all over the country, or all over the world, but I didn’t notice it until I came to live in NYC.) This very normal habit irritates me to no end. It’s not a big deal, I guess. But, like a tiny grain of sand in my shoe, it is persistently annoying.


Is everyone so busy that they have no time to listen to music (or podcasts) except while traveling from point A to point B? Are we trying to avoid the tedium of public transportation by distracting ourselves? Creating out own little cocoons to avoid interacting with the smelly panhandler, the lost tourist, the embarrassingly unattractive but interested found man? Face it, people, you chose to live in the most crowded city in the United States of America. (At least, I assume you chose it. If you didn’t, you should definitely move to a cheaper place. I mean it — right now!)

I’m the kind of cheerily annoying extrovert who is perpetually energized by interacting with people. Strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet. True, I don’t thoughtlessly start chatting with a stranger behind me in the restroom queue. But I have been known to do so after Ā considered thought. (And yes, there is always a restroom queue in NYC. At least for women. It doesn’t matter where you are.)

I love interacting with my environment — staring more than polite, listening to strangers’ conversations with avid attention, absorbing all of what is none of my business. I’ve read that there are no boring experiences, only ones to which we do not pay sufficient attention. That’s something that can be well tested on urban commutes. So I’ll continue to explore the hidden joys of crowds, and keep my radio time restricted to when I’m alone in my house of car. Even if that is not the American way!

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1 Response to Headphones

  1. Swami says:

    True that headphones are a way of creating cocoons. But is that such a bad thing? (Spoken like the kid who was famous for reading story books while walking along the road, and in playgrounds when sent there because kids needs to play and get some exercise!).

    Those of us who are dreamers or bookish are often happy to get lost in our imaginary worlds. But for people who are not bookish, who are practical and audiovisually driven, it is hard not to focus on the here and now, to be keenly and constantly aware of things around them – which are often unpleasant and frustrating. it is perhaps a good thing that technology provides them their means of escape too, with headphones and TV. That way they can arrive home or at work mentally fresher and more relaxed, than if they had spent it focusing on ways unpleasantnesses in their environment.

    The trouble with “choosing to leave in a crowded city” is that it is a basket choice. You don’t get to pick and choose all the parts that you like and don’t. At least TV and headphones and cars with ac and darkened windows and so on let you block out the parts that one doesn’t want.

    And yes, between texting, TV, headphones and browsing and email, not to mention telecons and videocons at work, technology does a great job of isolating people from the real world. Crowded urban environments are in fact facilitating islanding – not knowing who lives in the flat across from you – and really, the cubicle across from you as well – far more than scatttered rural environments.

    I am sure the irony of our having this discussion on an online environment is not lost on any of us! We words-and-books types live in glass houses…


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