G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Here is the image that will probably stick in my mind from these Olympic games:
Not just because these headphones make Michael Phelps look goofier than usual, but because for the past couple of years headphones have been crowding out earbuds among the young, “hip” set. An idea for a post came to me because within the past week I’ve seen two teenage boys eating dinner at my restaurant while wearing headphones around their neck. And out on the street or at the store it’s not uncommon to see a kid wearing these while walking around. Living in the Midwest I assume that every kid living on the coasts are wearing these.
Dr. Dre peddled his headphone brand, Beats, to a few Olympians including Phelps. The resurrection of the headphone reminds me of the reversion to vinyl records – the reasons for the switch being explained as vinyl’s superior sound quality while we all know that young people buy vinyl just to be different. There’s no doubt that the resurgence of the headphone is largely a fad, and it helps that they can be worn as an accessory like a necklace or a pair of Air Jordans.
But I see the headphone trend as symbolic of something else too. Earbuds have always been seen as a pretty clear cut “do not disturb” sign. They match up well with the stereotypical introverted, self-indulgent youth wearing them (though everyone wears them on the subway, the airport, at Starbucks). Headphones communicate the same thing but are even more in your face than that. Earbuds are a request to be left alone. Headphones are a statement. A person wearing earbuds just wants to listen to something other than their surroundings. This is a choice. Headphones are part of the identity. “I want to communicate to you that I’m listening to something else besides my surroundings. This is who I am.”