“Sorry. I Can’t Hear You With These Earbuds In.”featured

boy putting earbuds on to listen to music on cell phone in the park

I sat in the front seat of the car next to my husband with my grown daughter in the backseat. We love road trips and are normally chatty and animated in that first 30 minutes of traveling bliss. Our excitement is high and the anticipation of seeing landscape outside of cacti and sagebrush is pretty stimulating. I’m cracking jokes and getting ready to make the first Snapchat of the trip to start us off when I turn to tell my daughter to think of something funny to perform. She’s looking out the window with bold pink earbuds nestled securely in her ears as she mouths song lyrics to the car window. “Sara! Really!? I’ve been talking to you for ten minutes and you haven’t heard a word I’ve said!” I stared at her with my jaw hung open and had to do a quick glance at my phone to make sure I didn’t just Snapchat my little tantrum (I didn’t).

I can’t blame her really…

Every time we are in the car she wants music cranked and her dad and I usually growl, “Can’t we all just talk instead?” Honestly, she probably figured she’d jump on the self-entertainment wave before we had a chance to deny her music request. No wonder she usually prefers to take her own car.  At the sight of the phone in my hand, she hid her face and moaned, “Mom, don’t take a Snapchat of me right now!” We missed ten minutes of dialogue (that she was clueless of anyway) and all she notices is the phone in my hand set to video her? I scowled and turned around.

It’s funny, honestly. We all do it. My co-workers will walk into our shared office and start chatting away about something only to realize that I’m not paying attention because I have earbuds in while I watch a training video (too many distracting announcements over our school PA system). I’ve been in a room full of my family members (we’re a loud family) and want to watch a YouTube video and pop in earbuds so I can hear it. My friend wears earbuds to bed so she can listen to music to help her sleep at night.

Asian girl with earbuds listening to music with her phone at a desk in a room

Communication today is optional.

We can easily shut the world out with little plastic spaceships plugged into our ears. What power! Have you ever walked by someone and said, “Hello”, and felt snubbed until you see the thin cords snaking out from under their shirt up to their ears? It’s a humbling experience. Better yet, you notice someone laughing or smiling about something they are hearing in their little private world and feel left out? Talk about a complex…

I went to sub in a middle school where half the students listened to music with buds in their ears while they did independent work. What ever happened to the problem of talking in class? Now, class was so quiet, I was getting drowsy. Good thing there wasn’t a fire alarm as loud as some of them surely had their music turned up.

Let’s just imagine scenarios where you are blissfully dusting the living room while you listen to music with your earbuds in and a serial killer creeps into the house. Not likely, I know, but…just saying. Have you ever had to wave your hand in front of someone’s face just to get their attention because they can’t hear you? I’m a sign language interpreter and am often tempted to petition Congress to pass a federal law that everyone learn sign language so they can still communicate while they block their ears with the 80s greatest hits. It’s a crying shame when I have to send you a text message from the kitchen to call you to dinner because no amount of screaming on my part is going to get your attention.

How do we reconnect?

A recent TED Talk from Sherry Turkle, “Connected, but Alone”, shed some light on the subject. This is an excellent talk by Turkle on the tug-of-war between technology and human relationships. My main takeaway from the talk that relates to my feelings of the over-assault of earbud invasion is that, when we are in close proximity of another person and we could possibly strike up a meaningful conversation – why not go for it? Sure, we sometimes need to block out distractions with, um, another distraction. And I totally get that a jogger will be more motivated by jamming to music over pounding the pavement to obnoxious freeway noise. But, if we can “unplug” – let’s do it. Let’s talk. Let’s share laughs.

Even better, let’s get this road trip entertainment going – together.

Toy car on map for traveling with earbuds on a road trip




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