I have long struggled with my use of portable music devices. The appeal to listen to audio on the go is strong. It probably started off as a novelty, or as something to keep me occupied on long train journeys.
Back then it was a relatively cumbersome personal CD player. Then MP3 players came and made it easier to listen on the move.
Not just music — podcasts too. Like emails or RSS feeds, podcasts have a tendency to overwhelm you. They oppress as you try to listen to them all. Must… reach… zero.
The habit to listen to things on the move then seeped its way through. Often it feels as if practically every last spare moment is spent listening to something.
Maybe it’s my age. But I am increasingly feeling as though this behaviour is antisocial. I feel aware that I am disconnected from the world around me.
I sail right past people in the street without noticing them, because I am so transfixed by whatever I am listening to. How rude.
Sometimes I see people, and I may smile or wave or say ‘hi’. But I can’t always hear what they are saying. What if they want a stop and chat? What if they have something really important to say? Tough; I’ve just walked past them!
It’s difficult enough trying to gauge if someone wants to have a chat or not. But the awkwardness is multiplied by ten if you have earphones in. I need to make a decision whether to remove my earphones. If I do, it’s a bit embarrassing if the other person didn’t want to chat. “I was just scratching my head! The earphones fell out! Hahahaha!!”
Blocking out the world
If I’m in a quieter part of town, listening to my iPod means I am blocking out the sounds of the world. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first. But the sounds of the world can be so interesting, and I don’t hear them as often as I perhaps should.
What is also absurd is the fact that often I find that I am not paying attention to the podcast at all. I am lost in my own thoughts.
I go for a walk every day. Part of the idea behind that is to give me space to think. But then I deliberately go out to inhibit that by listening to podcasts instead. I carry a notepad around with me at all times, but it is years since I wrote down any ideas while I was out and about. I am too busy listening to a podcast to be creative myself.
So, in the spirit of self-improvement, I have decided to experiment. I will not listen to the iPod at all while I’m out and about during February. I will still listen to podcasts at home and in the car. I will still listen to music in the office and at home. But if I am outdoors, I will refrain from listening to the iPod completely.
It will be interesting to see what happens. Will I feel an improvement? Will I have more nice chit-chats with people? Will I hear new sounds and learn new things about my environment? Will I be happier? Will I come up with new ideas? Will I be sent round the bend with nothing but my own thoughts to occupy myself?
I plan to report back.