Please don’t wear earphones

The other day I was seated in a bus, listening to music and reading a book. Like any other regular person, I didn’t know who was sitting next to me. I only looked around when my neighbor nudged me gently.

“Hi! Sorry, You got time?” It was an elderly lady.
(Translation: You got time? = What is the time? I have no idea why people use this phrase.)
“Yeah, sure.” I told her the time and got back to my reading.

“You know, one of these days I am going to have a heart attack and fall on the street and nobody’s gonna notice.”
(HUH! I couldn’t believe she was actually talking to me. Wearing headphones is as good as putting up a huge ‘Do not disturb’ sign.)

I acknowledged hearing that and got back to my book.

“The other day I was walking and I needed to ask someone for directions but I looked around, everyone was wearing earphones. I felt like I am walking alone in the city. There wasn’t anybody I could talk to.”

Although irritated, now I was very curious to hear her. Removing my headphones, I asked, “Why not?”

“You know, everyone is in their own world, nobody wants to talk and if they are wearing earphones, I don’t want to interrupt and annoy them.”
(Except that she did that to me just a minute ago. Nevermind.)

“What if an ice block is falling on the sidewalk? If I see, I will shout for the next person but its useless because he is wearing earphones.”
(During winter, snow accumulates on top of windows, turns into ice and crashes on the pavement below. It is hazardous indeed.)
“I just wished people listened to me. I’m glad you did, sorry to bother you, you seemed like a nice guy.”

“Uh, thanks.” I got off at my stop, shaken with the problem of the aged and unable to fully understand what just happened.

What do you think?

  • She is an old lady. Probably she doesn’t have anyone to talk to.
  • She is used to being ignored by others.
  • She wasn’t interested in knowing the time. She simply wanted to talk to someone.

There are so many problems in our society. Some visible, most invisible.

55 thoughts on “Please don’t wear earphones

  1. She’s not completely wrong … earphones really cut you off from the other people and so do other things …. since the advent of GPS receivers, how many of us really bother to ask for directions? which really freaks people out in case you do ask …

    technology is useful but I really hope it doesnt change us faster than we’d like to change.

    • Harshal… Blue bike??? :)
      Indeed, maybe we will be overdependent on machines in the next generation, for example, already I can see cashiers using calculators for simple math.

      btw, wearing earphones for a long time is harmful for the ear too. :)

    • Let me tell you -why- I wear earbuds, Granny: “I want to be left the hell alone. On the bus, out walking, I just want to be left alone.” – On the bus especially, because I don’t really care to hear the fight going on between thug A and thug B and would really prefer to just stay out of it. Walking at night to 711 to get something to eat, of course I would greatly prefer to avoid the homeless person standing around outside trying to get close to me, waving his hands in my face as I approach the door “Gotta get inside, gotta get to safety” the man, half-follows me in but then goes back outside. “Thank God… but dammit, now I can’t buy food or flash money if he is back outside watching. Good thing I have this canister of mace on me.” – Or this one time (the one time I left to go to 711 -without- my earbuds) a man tried to sell me a bike, prefacing his sell attempt with “I swear, it’s totally legit.” I’m sorry Mr. Meth addict, but I don’t want to buy your stolen bike. I’m not trying to be ”rude.” I’m trying to avoid being harassed, asked for anything, or shot because I heard something I wasn’t supposed to. My momma (and Winnie The Pooh in 80′s video tapes they showed us in school) told me to “never talk to strangers” and I took that teaching to heart. The earbuds -are- a sign that I just want to be left in peace. If I get hit by a car or a falling piece of ice, then whatever, it’s my fault (though I usually make a point to look both ways and wait for the white walk signals, which sadly a lot of drivers could care less about, like this one guy in a green truck who looked like he was in a drugged up daze and continued to drive towards me as I was crossing, nearly mowing over me during a white).

      Call me paranoid, call me pessimistic. You’re right. I am, deal with it and leave me the hell alone or you’re going to get maced, kthxbai.

  2. I love ear phones it allows me to escape the ‘people’. As for old people. Hmmmm. Apart from the smell I do not really mind them but then I do not like the way babies smell either and they smell worse than old people.

    • Odzer: Yes, exactly why I use earphones myself. I can imagine about old people’s smell, but hey you don’t like the ‘baby smell’ either? (PS: They usually smell like Johnson’s baby talc or something their mothers overuse.)

  3. I guess what they are going through is so difficult.

    They have been used to spending time with family talking, and now all people do is sit in front of the TV, laptop, Wii or else sit with plugs stuffed in their ears.

    Maybe this will be something even we will face when we become old, though I wonder what would the matter on concern be then.

    • Aathira thanks for stopping by. I can imagine what they must go through once children moved out. And this moving-out age seems to start even earlier now a days. I hope we have enough old friends we can talk to then!

  4. She sounds super lonely. Who knows if we’ll be that desperate ourselves one day. I guess it’s harder for old people to just go out and meet others so they just talk to anyone who’s ear they can catch…even if there is a headphone in it!

  5. A post worth thinking upon! I think it is not just the problem of old, it is a problem for everyone. We are truly getting deaf with or without headphones!

  6. omg, its definetly none of the 3 mentioned possibilities. When she asked u the time she was checking how approachable are u, and was deciding if you’re the kind to listen to her advice and take it seriously. She was giving u a nice piece of advice, which u would agree we never even thought of. I totally understand when ur in the subway with earphones thats like UR time, but we should not look at the guides as our intruders.

    umm pls dont kill me after this puku…

    • Shayla, he he he, no grandma, I won’t kill you :P
      Wearing earphones for a long time is harmful for your ears too! I like the way you looked at this, something definitely worth thinking!

  7. For the first few months in Canada, this was one of the first things I noticed and felt really weird when everyone around me was walking around with headphones everywhere, all the time… it was in stark contrast to the way of life in Africa where you plugged in your headphones only when you were alone, or almost alone – it was considered very rude otherwise… By wearing earphones we shut out any human conversation, which was once considered a very normal thing to do… Technology sure is changing us…

    Very well written and thought-provoking post!

    Now before I start sounding like a 60+, I’ll hop out :)

    • Hi Ameeta,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for your views! I have some opposite views obviously. :D When I am commuting, I do want to be left alone and wearing headphones is the easiest strategy. Plus, I can hear music or radio which is difficult at other times. Cheers, and hope to see you again!

  8. She has a point. I also observed that as well, everyone is in one’s own bubble world, ears plugged in with headphones, shielded away from the rest of the world. Our Western society has become so individualized, that the notion of a communal society has long gone. Not only headphones, but going to the bank is also automated, buying cheese and meat and other foods can be done in the super without talking to someone (you can self-check-out), even checking out books in a library and checking in for a flight. See all those self-serve kiosks? The opportunities to talk to someone else is going away at a rather surprising rate.

    That’s the thing I hate about living here in the States. In Europe, everyone rides the streetcars, people actually cut the meat and slice your cheese, and so on. Here, what is known as the human touch is actually disappearing. Everything is becoming individualized and automated.

    • LIW: That was a good analysis, thanks! I saw something shocking yesterday – at the bus stop when the bus pulled in, I stood at the door expecting the driver to open it, like it usually happens. However, I was asked to press a button on the door in order to open it. So impersonal, oh god!

  9. All three and much more.

    We all are becoming slaves in the hands of machines and the trend is fast catching up in India as well.

    I am not a big fan of earphones unless required. And hate when somebody doesn’t listen to me because of it. I would rather listen to the natural voices around me (excluding those honking etc.) I feel more closer to life.

    • Cuckoo, I agree only to an extent. I don’t think we are becoming slaves in the hands of machines. We will be superior at all times. We are dependent on machines only to speedup our mundane tasks and I think that’s fine. Using a washing machine for example.

      Secondly, wearing headphones when you are with someone is rude, period. However, when I am alone, I will to do what I want to do. If a stranger wants to talk to me while I am wearing headphones, I don’t feel sorry for causing them any inconvenience. he he!

  10. I think she is right, but to struck an conversation just like that ‘you must seem like a nice guy Priyank’ lol.
    I run into people like that all the time, and I think it is not them, it is you or me, they just want to talk…..
    Excellent story line… Anna :)

  11. Oh good story! Kinda funny. Maybe it was her chance to see if someone would actually take their headphones off and listen to her? Who knows, old people have a different way of thinking.

    • Hi Christy,
      Welcome to my blog. Her actions were different indeed and they made me think so much! I always wonder how we will think when we are old…! Thanks for stopping by.

  12. A post worth thinking.

    I would say all 3. She must be a lonely soul and she is right about the world wanting privacy that they are alienating others.

    My 91 year old neighbor feels the same when she sees me busy. She wants to come over for a cup of Coffee or have a conversation but I always seem to be busy.

    Now I am feeling bad.

    • Hi Solilo!
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for your comments. Hey, no need to feel bad, we all have our lives you know… but maybe once in a while its good to help them out.

  13. Sad. Because she said she “just wished people listened to” her, I guess she used asking time as an excuse to start a conversation for reasons only she is aware of. Or else she could have checked out the time and thereafter kept quiet.

    Though I generally like to interact with people, there have been times when my earphones have come to my rescue from people I do not wish to continue a conversation with. So, instead of ‘Please don’t wear headphones’ for me it shall be, “Keep headphones ready at hand.”;)

    • Celine: Yes I know, it is sad. I confess I use earphones as a rescue measure all the time! Especially when there is a patch of street with homeless people….

  14. I agree what lady says, You are actually cut-off from the world.
    Earphones at times can be fatal, exactly as she narrated.

    Its only how early and well you know. I knew it the harder way, as described here: I want to Live.

    Hope post educates more like me before we experience, the worst. :-)

    • Sushant, one has to pick situations and act accordingly. I’ve seen smokers standing at the bus stop totally lost in their thoughts until the bus honks at them, or drivers speaking on cellphones :) Your story is scary!

  15. Hello Priyank,

    What more I can say, that’s true … “there are so many problems in our society”, most of the problems are invisible in our society, and those which are visible either we are ignorant or take it for granted and maybe that’s why the problem”. All the three points you have mentioned are now added to the long list of problems.

    I read it in the comment section – “If a stranger wants to talk to me while I am wearing headphones, I don’t feel sorry for causing them any inconvenience.”, hadn’t you mentioned it … I would surely :). But then using headphone has its own different meaning and purpose at different places. Like, it looks highly irresponsible & get dangerous when driving.

    • Hi Alok,
      Welcome to my website and thanks for your comments. Yes wearing headphones means different things to different people but for all practical reasons, it is considered to mean ‘leave me alone.’ While driving? oh no, thats deadly.

  16. I think it is a sign of changing times. She probably was/is an extrovert and used to befriending people growing up and now people tend to get in their own bubble (me included). I have lived for years in apartments and houses without knowing my neighbor. In a way, it is sad growing up in a bubble. Then again, I am an introvert and I enjoy my bubble :-)

    • Hi Daniel,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for stopping by. I am quite an introvert too, and like you said, we enjoy our bubbled. Now that you mention, I don’t think I know my neighbors either, maybe I should go over and say hello…! :)

  17. Is there a relation between earphones and loneliness? I mean if we are travelling, we are with strangers anyways. And we can utilize our time by reading or listening to music. That doesn’t make anyone lonely or cut off. Yes it is hazardous to use earphones while walking on streets.

    And if we are to listen to someone, it seems better to do it with empathy instead of just for the sake of it. Cause that’s even worse. It’s better to politely decline it otherwise.

    So all who want to talk or listen should go to a social gathering or something. And keep your earphones at home :P

    • Good point Kevin!
      That’s what I argue too, if someone wants to socialize, they can go to places where they can. But in a bus full of strangers, if I want to wear earphones, I don’t care what others think. :P

  18. Puku, I loved the “During winter…” phrase! It reminded me of a kind nurse in London that once took the time to explain to me what mosquitoes are and when they bite! As for the old lady, she was obviously a researcher’s aide. Your dialogue with her will soon be quoted in a social psychology journal.

    • Hey Raluca,
      Welcome to my blog! And thanks for the comment. I like your take, maybe she was indeed randomly sampling us :)
      PS: You didn’t know about mosquitoes?? comeon!!! hehehe, I can imagine!

  19. Nice post. Like Linguist-in-Waiting says, this is not just about headphones. Neither is this about age. This is about human touch and the differing ideas of social life that people from different cultures, ages, geographies, etc. have.

    You can see this difference in rural vs. urban India. Village folk in rural India share their meals with strangers when travelling. Visiting relatives from rural areas get bored in cities because the ‘apartments’ concept with neighbors behind closed doors is alien to those living in olden-style ‘wadas’ and ‘chawls’.

    This is the basic reason many people believe that technology is ultimately de-humanizing. There has been loads of literature on the topic and I don’t think we’re anywhere near having any answers yet.

    • Hi Mahendra, nice to see you back in action!

      Indeed, I experienced something unusual to that extent in Bhutan… I’m quoting from my travel blog:

      Thimphu is one of two national capitals in Asia that does not have traffic lights. Local authorities had installed a set of lights at this junction but before they became operational the lights were removed. People complained that the automatic traffic signals were too impersonal and hence very unnatural to Bhutanese culture. So, instead of traffic lights, the city takes pride in its traffic police that directs the oncoming traffic with their dance-like movement of their arms and hands.

      Inefficient, unproductive, wasteful expenditure, error-prone? Maybe, but its human!

  20. My answer will be the last one. :D

    “She wasn’t interested in knowing the time. She simply wanted to talk to someone. ”

    Not a matter of an old lady or whatsoever it might be. It’s simply just a need to talk to someone.

  21. I think she wasnt used to people ignoring her which is why she was so distressed. As much as i dont want to admit it that old woman was right, in certain parts of the word there are nations who barely communicate in day to day life.

    Having headphones in can be dangerous, and i only say this because it has been proven to me. In October last year a friend of mine walked out in front of a car, the car hit him and he was killed on site. He may have not seen the car, but he couldnt hear it either which contributed and is what i think was the final cause of his death. He simply didnt hear it coming.

    Im not the type of person to worry about something like that happening to me at all, it wont effect the way i am in the slightest. However it did make me think that my friend probably thought the same as me, the standard “oh it wont happen to me though, everythings fine”

    It showed me that unlikely things arent impossible, i know iv strayed from the original question here but i wanted to make that point.

    Back to the question though. Yes she is an old lady with nobody to talk to, and yes she will have only asked you the time to start a conversation, but understand that she isnt used to being ignored, she has grown up in a society who communicate even if there is no good reason to.

    All it is is the world has moved on without her, its sad to think that in one way or another it will happen to us too, we just dont know how yet.

    • ToroZap, welcome to my blog and thanks for your comments! Its true, we always think that “this will happen to others, not to me” but I guess there is no use running away from reality…

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