Earbuds and headphones are signals in our modern social world. Here’s where that rabbit hole can lead when wandering around a major city...
While I am predominantly a software homebody, there are times when you must get outside your shell, go places, see people, do things. When in a different city, I always take the opportunity to walk around. The new input only partially makes up for what is (usually) a physically painful plane ride. I cannot sit for long periods any more, too many years of long hours at a computer console.
Pay attention, young people. Sitting is the new smoking.
Half the time,
I am oblivious of surroundings and into my own thoughts as I walk around… a potential danger to self and society as I might blindly step into traffic. Some cities are more pedestrian-friendly, too, BTW.
I’m surprised I’ve survived this long but I have a good autopilot, the Autonomous Me. When old age sets in, this will probably be the component that reveals it first. I only hope I’m sauntering in a pleasant meadow rather than powering down The Magnificent Mile.
The other half of the time,
I am hyper-aware of my surroundings and, when curious, can become super-engaged. It’s an affliction. It scares a few (INCLUDING ME, an introvert at core) but most people seem to appreciate my sincere interest… and I learn a lot. Connected dots reveal patterns and I like having more dots (data points) since that makes them easier to connect, becoming the wireframe upon which the bigger picture is painted.
One technique for connecting is to use the metaphor view. Walk around and really look at the world with something in mind and you’ll find congruity or discord, a sense of scale, an outside perspective, a nomad’s gut guidance.
Let me talk you along. Here is a random stream of people at a downtown street intersection…
A man took one additional step, off the curb and onto the street, as if to get a head start (while cars whizzed by). His friend, standing by me on the sidewalk, said to him:
'Stop standing down there, fool, you’ll get hit! First, I‘ll laugh. THEN, I will help you.’
Some people know. They have been at that intersection, seen the traffic and drivers, witnessed what CAN happen.
They can predict the future.
And they will be right: do NOT step off the curb before signaled.
Another intersection… while everyone else waits patiently for the light to change, one or two people will step confidently into the crosswalk seconds before the crowd gets the go-ahead.
They know. They’ll be halfway across before others begin. They take that “educated guess” we used to hear about. A calculated risk.
And they will be right: it’s OK to step off the curb before signaled.
Do we follow fools or the informed?
When we see earbuds or headphones — listening devices — in public use, it’s natural to wonder what (if anything) they are listening to. There have been many surveys, yet the picture is still unclear.
When I look around, I see secondary signals. For example, if the earpod wearer is rhythmically nodding their head, it’s pretty likely they are listening to music. Some things are easy.
Using a phone for, well, a phone (less and less common these days) is usually obvious if the person is talking on it. What is sometimes UNCLEAR is the way they are connected:
- Phone Connected to Bluetooth Buds — often hard to detect since they can be almost as small as an actual hearing aid, the dangly white airpods are quite distinctive. The person appears to be just talking to themselves. Some have a neck-bar, from which the buds are wired, which can be a clue, too.
- Phone Connected to Corded Earbuds — more visible; if a person is talking to themselves and you see this, it is a plausible explanation for the behavior.
- Phone Speaker — by this, I mean holding the phone up to your ear like, well, a phone (sorry for the repetition but I trust you DO see the irony here) where the output sound goes more directly into one ear as the phone is pressed up against it. Classic phone conversation behavior… which has also been faked (one-sided) since the beginning.
- Speakerphone — these days, this typically involves holding a mobile phone horizontally in front of your mouth as you speak into the microphone AND have the speakerphone ON, where the other party’s audio can be heard to some degree. Convenient when you have no hands, want to take notes, whatever… but odd for someone walking along the street or in a coffee shop. And making it harder to hear. And most certainly not private. Yet quite common — gesturing mandatory — I assume people do this because that’s what they see on TV(?!).
Listening to a podcast often invokes reactions. It’s almost as if all parties were sitting around a table… there are facial reactions. Some people will be walking silently, steadily along and then suddenly smile… or nod… or gasp… or laugh… or stop walking for a second and then continue on. When this happens, many will look down and then up.
I’ve witnessed rewinds, I’m sure.
Listening To Talk
While walking crowded sidewalks, and waiting in lines or sitting in coffee shops, my attention is often triggered when I hear certain keywords. There’s a Little Alexa or Tiny Assistant in my head alerting me to new, relevant information.
When not listening to podcasts, people talk about podcasts. They are doing it more.
They’re also telling others about favorites. When it happens, endorsement is very enthusiastic and some of that energy is transferred…
…yet it fizzles when the recommendation falls on a newbie.
I wish I had recordings of the many ways I’ve heard one person TRY to tell another exactly how to listen to an episode of a podcast… even taking the other person’s phone in hand to do so.
What’s more shocking to me is the general population is UNAWARE of this vast content resource — a massive pool of podcast programs and episodes, many multiples larger than shows offered by Netflix — mostly free.
At the same time, I hear some creators challenged at finding a bigger audience for their podcasts.
Hey, all you podcasting industry gurus…
THIS is a problem. Categorize it how you want, but “it’s not good for business”.
Also, here’s the last article about the defeat of skepticism in podcasting.
You may want to read the first article, which establishes much of thefoundation for these views, or the second one that begins to forth our intent to purposefully (and positively) modify podcast consumption behavior.