I forgot my headphones today. A full day of work at the library and coffee shop planned and I fucking forgot headphones.

Headphones provide a strange type of alienation from the world: self-imposed. A cue to the world—a visual Away MessageI’m not available right now. More than that, since the iPod’s first campaign through the modern Beats ads, they’re somewhat of a status symbol (no matter how dumb that status looks).

I try and be pretty aware of their use. I don’t understand wearing headphones absent-mindedly on walks. The sonic experience of both nature and the city can be equally enthralling.1 I also don’t get why people wear headphones when they drive, because of, well, you know. Safety concerns and all.

But a modern coffee shop is practically intolerable without some noise. It’s impossible to walk through a crowded cafe in America and find any square footage where you can’t hear some of the most inane bullshit you’re likely to experience all day.2 So tepid are Americans to discuss the society of our day that I’ve had art censored from cafés in Portland (of all places) due to their political nature. Some respond by talking about things out of their control—sports teams, the weather—and the response for me is to listen to something chaotic.

(The library is almost the complete opposite; the stunning silence almost begs for preferential sound to allow for focus, a way to keep the brain on a cycle while dealing with information and research and workflow. I can barely focus on the fact I’m having trouble maintaining focus on anything. A rather idyllic First World Problem, I know, but it’s these little inconveniences that can seriously fuck up the day’s output.)

  • It wasn’t too long ago when Being Present was the hipster fashion phrase of the moment; how anyone could reasonably say they were aware of the ‘moment’ while wired into social media, the internet, music, podcasts, etc., is beyond me.
  • Long gone are the days of Les Deux Magots. Let’s face it: most conversations people have are, at best, barely tolerable to those involved. Nobody here is solving world hunger; most of the time they’re just deciding what to get for lunch. Business owners may not want to risk conversation that could be ‘offensive’ to customers, but that just further proves the influence of commerce outweighs any sense of sociopolitical self-preservation we have as a culture in America.