Airheads behind the AirPods? A look at users’ inner lives

Courtesy of Creative Commons/THE REVIEW
AirPods: They’re ubiquitous across campus, but why are students buying and wearing them?

Staff Reporter

AirPods are a hot commodity on this campus. Headphones in general, but AirPods specifically. They’re a statement: they say, “Look! I have AirPods!” And most people think that’s pretty neat.

They serve as accessories. Often, AirPods are decorative. They hang outside our heads like ornaments, and it makes you wonder what their purpose really is. According to students on campus, AirPods are the Swiss Army Knives of easily losable listening devices. They’re great for playing your favorite earworm, listening to two guys mumble about nothing in a soundproof room, or avoiding social contact completely.

When asked, though, about the nuances of these little, status-declaring devices, people generally have a stronger opinion. It isn’t really about the music — it’s about the divide between me and them. Like Linus and his blanket, we’re all bound to a social crutch. For most, their blanket is bluetooth compatible.

“I’ll put them in sometimes so people don’t talk to me,” Alex Butler, a freshman, says with a laugh. “I’ll even make it known that they’re in my ears so that way people don’t come up and try to talk to me, which sounds really awful…”

She drifted off with a chuckle, not delving deeper into that hole. Butler went on to describe how her behavior often made her feel a bit isolated, and more than a bit sad.

“I know nobody can hear me because everybody has AirPods or headphones in,” she said.

AirPod users have effectively engaged in doublethink. They desire time alone, a few moments of solitude in a crowd of people, while simultaneously acknowledging that this isn’t natural. And it inspires something else, too.

Personal listening devices create a facade. “Oh my god, she has AirPods in!!! She can’t hear us. Oh my god!!!” Ah, but curiosity says “Nay!” It’s just the opposite.

Ali Miller, a freshman, spoke briefly about eavesdropping with AirPods in.

“I can tell when my parents are trying to tell each other something without me knowing, and I wanna know what it is… because it’s probably about me,” Miller admits.

Another underclassman, Olivia Chowdhury, notices this behavior as well.

“My friends do that sometimes,” she says.

In fact, all three students agreed that everyone does it. Everyone is listening. All the time.

What does this mean for us all? Have we Big Brother-ed ourselves? Are we truly just playing a game of charades, our attention undivided, solely focused on going from room to room? Better yet, listening to the people in those rooms?!

Alas, there’s hope for us. Chowdhury went on to say that she doesn’t eavesdrop. She doesn’t even use her AirPods that often.

“I’m sure there are definitely people that just put them in so they can be antisocial,” she says. Upon acknowledging this, though, she adds, “Everyone is doing their own thing here…. People are in their own peace, in their own mind, just trying to get through the day.”

We take sanctuary not in silence, but in the passive silencing of a world we desperately long to be a part of, but wish to temporarily be apart from. On a campus of thousands, perhaps it’s just difficult to find a moment of real alone-ness. An unlikely savior, AirPods come to the rescue, swooping in to drain our bank accounts and save our souls.

As it turns out, most AirPod users have a better moral compass than one would think. Not everyone is out to drink up all the proverbial tea on campus.

As Butler put it: “I put my music on, and I walk away,” carrying her whole head with her, AirPods and all.

Something AirPods do provide is a personal, singular experience.

“I feel like, ‘Oh, I’m kind of entitled to want to be alone for a few minutes,’” Butler says.

Perhaps the longer-than-usual steps we take to the beat of Matthew Wilder’s “Break my Stride” is nothing more than an attempt to have a small moment to ourselves.

Do we really become untouched by a reality we’ve chosen to pause? Maybe. The sounds of cars, the laughs of children, the rustling of a squirrel in the underbrush.

Perhaps the odds of walking right into traffic are, statistically, higher. And maybe it makes someone unapproachable when they’ve got those super cool ‘Pods in (as they’re lovingly called). And maybe they really can’t hear you (“oh my god”).

But as Shakespeare once famously said (about AirPods, of course), “If music be the food of love, play on.”

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