Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Against AirPods & Alienation


When you take the train as much as I do, it's hard not to become a bitter Luddite. Everyone - or, at least, nearly everyone - on my daily commute into the city is hopelessly tethered to their screens. It's actually impressive how they manage not to look up once the entire ride. Their phones have become an appendage. 

These commuters have a fundamental inability to sit still, alone with their thoughts. If deprived of their phones for even a minute, they fidget, knowing not what to do with their liberated hands. 

Many of these train-riding automatons no longer have any use for wired headphones. Now, they use the dreaded Apple AirPods. I can't stand these darned things... They are awful little white ear boogers. When you wear AirPods, you are telling those around you that you cannot be bothered. You become a cyborg, cocooned in a digital microcosm. 

This digital microcosm is a lonely, anti-social place to be. No longer are you experiencing your surroundings, your fellow humans, or your thoughts. Instead, you are enwrapped in an endless scroll of Instagram Reels, advertisements, and text messages. 

You can probably tell that all of this bothers me. 

To be sure, I too am guilty of accruing too much screen time on my phone. Often, I lose track of time when watching YouTube videos or scrolling X. In small doses, it's fun and amusing. In copious doses, it's tedious and draining. 

I recently finished reading Sherry Turkle's 2011 book, Alone Together. She makes many of these same points about the anti-social nature of the modern digital age. Very importantly, however, she urges prudence and understanding of our times, rather than a reactive rejection of technology. She admonishes readers not to give in to the "Luddite impulse." 

I completely agree. Technology isn't going anywhere. We'll have to learn to live with it. Our relationship with technology, though, must change. 8-hour screen time isn't sustainable for people. We must curtail our use. 

At this point, I'm sure you've come across this image of a man using a Virtual Reality headset on the train:

This is dystopian. I'm afraid we are in the early stages of normalizing such anti-social behavior. 

We need to pump the brakes and return to real human connection. 



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