First posted: 05 March 2005
Those earphones are ubiquitous. In school campuses and in the Makati area at least, every third person I run into is wearing an earpiece of sorts. From the white iPod earbuds to those Nokia half-headphones, a lot of people walking around seem to be wired to something or another, listening to music. It's like a William Gibson novel come to life.
Of course the big question is why. Why do people (at least the ones I run into) feel the need to listen to music all the time? Has this always been a latent want satisfied only now, when portable music players are really small enough and cheap enough to carry around?
Is it impatience? Does having nothing to do bother us city folk so much that we need to give our brains a constant buzz so they don't go on standby mode? Do we always need something to process that we feed ourselves a stream of information when our brains are supposed to be on downtime?
Is it a sign of loneliness? Do we need to fill every silence with a background layer of pleasant sound so we don't feel alone? Or is it the opposite? In wanting to be alone do we cut ourselves off from the rest of the world by shutting ambient sounds out?
Perhaps it's a pop culture thing, this desire to lay a soundtrack to our daily lives. Influenced by television and the movies, everyone may want some kind of theme song for every waking moment, from getting on the bus to just before going to bed. I can understand. I know someone who puts on the Star Trek theme on the way to work and the Batman (animated) soundtrack whenever he drives home to Antipolo. Heck, I'm having visions of someone strutting down a sidewalk with "Staying Alive" blaring in his ear, shuffling in his best Travolta impression.
But is it really a need?
I find it silly. I love music as much as (perhaps more than) the average guy yet I don't feel the need to immerse myself in it all the time. For me there's nothing like getting up in the morning to some rock music or playing a jazz track at work to stimulate creativity. I like Beethoven and Moby and Sonic Youth but I don't think it's healthy for anyone to keep those headphones on all the time.
My guess is it's another case of demand created by hype. No one needs music pumped into them all the time but the act is considered cool so people begin to feel the need to stick something into their ears so they can be cool, too. No one really needs to spend for them but having one means you're one of those people who can (or whose parents can) afford to drop P15,000 for a portable music player.
Of course there's nothing wrong with having a portable music player and using it. It becomes unnatural only when one spends every waking moment listening. The problem is not in owning one, the problem is being owned by one.