Thursday, December 27, 2012

Headphones and humans: don’t believe the hype

What I think I see...

The world is going mad. Or maybe it’s just me. I was sitting in the waiting room while my mom was getting a routine medical scan. The place was packed with patients but that’s not what was driving me crazy. Instead, it was what a couple folks were wearing: headphones.
It’s not headphones I object to per se. I don’t have a problem with folks wearing them in public. In fact I’m all for it. Headphones give some (i.e., younger folks) a way to enjoy listening to whatever without subjecting others (i.e., older folks) to their uh, peculiar preferences. Not that I’m a prude when it comes to music. Actually I have fairly eclectic taste. In fact, I love hip hop and rock. Of a certain vintage. But I digress.
The thing I’m obsessed with, and I’m fully willing to acknowledge it may be my own problem rather than theirs, is the size of the headphones. I can’t stop thinking about it. That’s because when last I checked, technology made it possible for headphones to be really small. So small, they call them earbuds. Small enough that if you’re not really looking, all you might notice are wires dangling from somebody’s face.
Instead, a growing number of folks are, in some cases quite literally, running around with what looks like plastic-wrapped bagels over their ears. And I can’t get the image out of my head. Some headphones are gigantic; others less so. But my point is why?
What I really see...
Maybe I’m prejudiced in favor of micro-technology. Or perhaps I’m just out of touch. But it strikes me as wrong-headed that a person would want to saddle themselves with bulky obstructions when smaller, more ergonomic options are available. I see marketing as the culprit. It’s brainwashing people, especially younger ones, into believing clunky is better than discrete.
I remember when there was no such thing as earbuds. I grew up during a time when prodigious headphones were the only option. Eventually they got smaller, but were still clumsy to wear and a pain to carry, particularly when traveling and not in use. Today headphones, with their fancy names, colors and logos, are a status symbol.
Big business and celebrities have convinced Joe and JoAnn Consumer that bigger, pricier, harder to stow headphones are better than smaller less expensive earbuds. Many who wear them think themselves cool and prestigious, just like I did in the shiny pleather platform shoes I nearly broke my neck walking in back in the day. When I see folks sporting large headphones, I’m reminded of workers on the airport tarmac slinging luggage or directing planes with those pointed orange flashlight thingys. It’s driving me nuts.
To be fair, I went online to read about these trendy audio accessories. The claim is they help suppress outside noise and improve sound quality.  I get that. I want my music pristine and crystal clear too – at home. Not so much when I’m jogging or ordering a Big Mac with fries. I guess supersizing was only outlawed at restaurants.
What I'd rather see...
Still, excessive size has its place; that’s why there’s Texas. On a more serious note, this all reminds me of a time when cell phones held the same dimensions of bricks, yet everyone coveted them. And while smartphones are starting to grow in measurement, at least there’s a reason for it: You Tube.
In the end, to each his or her own, I guess. Besides, I’m always preaching about being tolerant of others. And I suppose there’s a place at the table for large yet rational purchasing choices: like that wall-size flatscreen TV I’ve got my eye on.

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