October 31, 2014

The Evasion of the Earbud People

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It would be a mistake to blame the technology. As usual, it’s how people use — and abuse — it:

Now that the Earbud People have invaded, they’ve taken over subways, academia, buses, and sidewalks from coast to coast and around the globe. They’re passively receiving sounds that they alone can hear. Other than mob violence or criminal behavior, theirs is the most antisocial public behavior one can imagine. Its only rivals are the Bluetooth-enabled cell phone conversations that turn all who engage in them into irritating public speakers, exposing their private thoughts to the unwilling listeners in the world at large.

The young take all this for granted. They know no other ways of behaving in public. But to those who remember the pleasures of either conversation or solitude, the loss suffered by the Earbud People seems tragic.

Earbud people are like heavily-medicated people — swathed in an inner universe that’s at once protective and unreflective. They’re neither in touch with others nor with themselves. Maybe they are once they’re at home, or at work, but they lose a lot of the joys of living when they’re out in public by encasing themselves, like walking mummies, in the sounds from their earbuds. — Belladonna Rogers

Earbud People basically hang a metaphorical sign saying “Keep Out” around their necks:

In the past there existed an implicit social contract in public: We’re all in this together. We’ll help each other if needed.

No longer. It’s as if the Earbud People are wearing “Do Not Disturb” signs. Their eyes are often closed, absenting themselves even further from those around them. This used to be one of the functions of sunglasses indoors and on subways — to say, “I’m not here. I’m inaccessible, so buzz off.” Earbud People are cut off from others who might serendipitously begin a conversation with them.

They’re thus preventing not only unwanted human contact but also the potential of positive contact.

It can lead to “a decline in thinking”:

Earbuds not only cut off interactions with other people, they also disengage their users from a vital part of themselves. They block one of the most important human activities: thinking.

It can even lead to “the death of solitude”:

By robbing themselves of easy accessibility to others and, equally seriously, depriving themselves of the chance to focus their own thoughts in a useful way, Earbud People exist in a zombified zone that is neither communal (with the chance to interact with others) nor the condition of true solitude (with the chance to be alone with their thoughts).

Read Belladonna Rogers’s article — “Earbuds: The End of Civilized Life As We Know It” — on Pajamas Media here.

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