Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: Hey Bud

By Dennis Hinkamp

Will ears become vestigial organs or just sort of coat racks for our wired and unwired devices? It’s hard to say. Everyone already looks at their phones and lovingly caresses them, but their ears are also increasingly tethered to them.

Do you really need a soundtrack to go from the car to the grocery store? Is holding up a phone to your ear and mouth just too hard? Do you want to gesticulate and talk aloud to a person that only you can hear? Does hearing natural sounds seem unnatural to you? Are ear buds and headphones your “do not disturb” sign?  I would counter that you are already disturbed.

I’m not old enough for hearing aids, but a little too not young to routinely stick some sound device in, over or around my ears every waking, walking and running moment. Like many of my generation, my hearing is a little impaired from a lifetime of rock concerts and power tools before anyone knew that this would go on your permanent (medical) record. Granted, stuffing your lateral head holes with tiny speakers is better for everyone around you compared to boom boxes or a stack of Fender amps, but aren’t you shutting yourselves off, too? It’s hard to dance together when everyone’s beat is to a different drummer.

Though I seemingly rant about everything, I really do try to be considerate of other people’s stupid choices. What is the etiquette for interacting with people who have closed off one of their five senses? Whenever I come up to a person wearing ear buds and want to talk to them in real life (IRL) I get this big “humph?!” sigh as they pull them off and look at me like I just pulled them out of a concert they really paid for. I end up acting all mousey and say, “I just wanted to ask you a question, it won’t take long; sorry.” But then I think “Really? Don’t real face-to-face people get priority? Are ear things some sort of cone of silence, baby on board sign or beautiful border wall that I am supposed to observe?”

What is the common ground and protocol in these real life situations? If I run up behind someone on a trail rockin’ to their ear buds who is either running slower than me (happening less frequently) or walking, I really don’t have many good options for passing. I could yell “hey!” and scare or annoy them. I could tap them on the back and risk getting an elbow to the face. There doesn’t seem to be a demilitarized zone to solve this.

For music, I guess I get it. But for your phone, it makes it appear that you’re walking around talking to the voices in your head, which is sort of what you are doing.

I understand; times change. Not long ago you could watch a competitive marathon and probably count to the 50th finisher before you saw someone with ear buds and a music player. No more, now even the most competitive runners wear them.

I get it if you’re on a treadmill or a spin bike with ear buds because those forms of exercise are only slightly more humane than water boarding. However, can’t you walk across campus or on trails while just enjoying the sounds of wildlife or overheard conversations rather than shuffling along to someone else’s sound track?

I am being a little hypocritical in that I can’t stand the thought of driving more than 10 miles without a good radio station or audio book to get me through it. But, but, but that is inside a car with death potentially only a moment away.

Dennis Hinkamp can be found wandering around Logan listening to only imagined songs.

This article was originally published on May 31, 2018.