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Earbuds: The End of Civilized Life As We Knew It

Is it their right to ensconce themselves in their earbuds' sounds?  Of course, it’s their right.  But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.  Many are familiar with what dogs do because they can.  But it would be truly a dog’s life if that were all the dog did.  Inter alia, he would die of hunger, with all but his tongue muscles dramatically atrophied.

In the past, that distant country for which so many yearn,  Wordsworth wrote such memorable lines as these, in 1804, that glowingly express the joys of earbudless solitude:

 I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed--and gazed--but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

Similarly, a blog by Oberlin College psychology professor Nancy Darling evokes the joys of solitude while working in her garden without being tethered to her earbuds:

It was midway through pulling up last year’s mouse-gnawed kohlrabi that I remembered I had my new cell phone in the back pocket of my jeans.  Hours' worth of music.  Weeks' worth of audiobooks.  Streaming on-line radio.  I even had the earbuds in my jacket. Yet somehow, despite what looked -- and indeed, turned out to be -- hours' worth of tedious manual labor ahead of me, I didn’t put them on.

My senses were completely full.  My hands were stirring through cold, crunchy vermiculate, damp moss, and earth, re-energizing my one and only raised bed.  I could hear my breathing, drowning out everything except for the cardinals arguing over turf and that yellow bellied sapsucker that has been calling all week.  Just like when I’m swimming, I was totally aware of the air going in and out of my lungs and the sheer physicality of my labor....That entirely filled my attention.

By mid-morning, the pumps were running, the fountains bubbling away, and the water clear and replenished….I moved on to the long rows of dead tomato plants, pulling old vines off of rhubarb finding its way to the sun….I’d catch and shake myself after a minute or two.  Nothing anywhere on the surface of my mind, but completely occupied.

Like my muddy pond -- you couldn’t see anything in it, but you knew there was something important happening just below the surface.

And I’d have lost it all if I’d turned on the music.

How powerfully Professor Darling describes what may so exasperate you when you encounter the swarms of Earbud People.  They seem deeply unaware of what they’re missing, be they in “city or in forest,” in Leonard Cohen's haunting phrase.  They're out of it everywhere.

The world would be a more civilized -- as well as an intellectually and spiritually richer -- place if the Earbud People would disengage from their technology and re-engage with the world both in communal life and through the luminous experience of true solitude.  But this will not happen.

I regret to say that in this day and age, you’d be well-advised to obtain a free subway map and not depend on people who make clear by their behavior that they do not wish to engage with you, with themselves, or with anyone else. From now on, if we're in public, we're on our own. The Earbud People aren't here to help. They're the end of civilized life as we knew it.

-– Belladonna Rogers

Do you have questions?  Belladonna Rogers has answers.  Send your questions or comments about politics, personal or cultural matters, or anything else that’s on your mind and Belladonna will answer as many as possible.  The names and email addresses of all advice-seekers will remain anonymous and confidential.  Send your questions or comments to: [email protected]