how headphones changed the world Essay

1236 Words Dec 28th, 2013 5 Pages
If you are reading this on a computer, there is an excellent chance that you are wearing, or within arm's reach of, a pair of headphones or earbuds.

To visit a modern office place is to walk into a room with a dozen songs playing simultaneously but to hear none of them. Up to half of younger workers listen to music on their headphones, and the vast majority thinks it makes us better at our jobs. In survey after survey, we report with confidence that music makes us happier, better at concentrating, and more productive.

Science says we're full of it. Listening to music hurts our ability to recall other stimuli, and any pop song -- loud or soft -- reduces overall performance for both extraverts and introverts. A Taiwanese study linked
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If music evolved as a social glue for the species -- as a way to make groups and keep them together -- headphones allow music to be enjoyed friendlessly -- as a way to savor our privacy, in heightened solitude. In the 1950s, John C. Koss invented a set of stereo headphones "designed explicitly for personal music consumption," Virginia Heffernan reported for the New York Times. "In that decade, according to Keir Keightley, a professor of media studies at the University of Western Ontario, middle-class men began shutting out their families with giant headphones and hi-fi equipment." Headphones did for music what writing and literacy did for language. They made it private.

ALONE, TOGETHER

Loneliness is one of the first things ordinary Americans spend their money achieving.

So wrote Stephen Marche in last month's cover story for The Atlantic. "Loneliness is at the American core, a by-product of a long-standing national appetite for independence," he said. "The price of self-determination and self-reliance has often been loneliness. Americans have always been willing to pay that price."

It is easy, and therefore popular, to say that headphones make us anti-social. But Marche is right. Wealth can buy -- and modern technology can deliver -- the independence that people have always sought. People have always had private thoughts. Headphones have the capacity to make our music like our thoughts. Something that nobody

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