May 8, 2013

I am not in the habit of using ear buds.

Yes, I know they are everywhere. I am often amazed at the number of people I see with that iconic white “necktie” hanging in front of their torsos, little plastic speakers jammed in their ears…they’re everywhere; all ages; all shapes, colors and styles…but I don’t like using them.

For one thing, I have NEVER found a reasonably priced pair that actually fit in my ears. Secondly…my ears get itchy! Thirdly, while I could get a set of headphones (the kind that COVER your ears)I refuse to look like those posers who feels the need to have their Blue Tooth device stitched to their heads at all times, blinking away with that inexplicable little blue light which serves no purpose other than telling everyone else around the user that they they think their hands are so important that they must remain “free” at all times. Ninjas? Spontaneous heart surgeons? Combat Mimes? The headphones have the same effect: “My audio requirements are so advanced, and my need for flawless sonic experience  is so intensely critical that I am willing to to make the equivalent fashion statement of : ‘1977 Roller Disco Fanatic’.”

Fourthly, while I love music, I cannot live with a constant soundtrack underscoring my life.  It’s just…too much. More on that in a moment.

So, yesterday was one of those rare days when I found myself in need of using ear buds. Scheduling demanded that I get in some musical practice during my walk to work, so I grabbed the Ipad (or as we call it in our house: “THE TABLET OF POWER”) a set of cheap ear buds I keep in my backpack…and I set out for my 45 minute “commute”.

I noted the following results from walking with a soundtrack:

1) I missed a bunch of stuff. Mostly bird song.

2) I walked faster. Actually I tended to walk in time with the music. This had a fun little side effect to the otherwise unpleasant experience: I felt  like I was sort of secretly dancing…but no one else knew it. I also felt like John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever” a couple of times, paint can swinging from my hand nonchalantly…

3) I wasn’t present in the moment. I know that can sound trite and cliche…but it’s true. I arrived at the office not really knowing how I got there.

4) I missed a bunch of other stuff. Mostly “noise”. At one point toward the end of my walk, I SAW a landscaper with leaf blower. I SAW a garbage truck rumble right past me. I WATCHED a yip dog have a barking seizure right behind a chain link fence. I SAW a 747 fly very low on final approach to nearby Paine Field….

…but I heard none of it.

That’s when it hit me: (are you ready for “the quote”?) : Ear buds are to the 21st century American what perfume was to the 15th century Frenchman: It covers up the stuff you don’t want to sense.

It’s not that it doesn’t have it’s own intrinsic beauty, it’s own purpose and value…it’s just that it is ALSO used as a screen, a filter, an anesthetic. It’s used to block out the unpleasant presence of other humans. It masks the “noise-stink” that spreads out in our wakes.

Is this good news? Bad news? Honestly…I’m not sure it’s news at all.

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