Nothing beats the feeling of donning a pair of trendy headphones, striding into the outside world, and becoming an it-girl listening to Charli XCX. As you cast your gaze wistfully into the horizon, a single thought tantalisingly lingers: how captivating you’d look if this were a music video. That is, until reality soon intervenes and you realise that you can’t hear a single thing happening on the streets, with poor Charli working overtime in your ears, oblivious to the stream of friends and cyclists whizzing past you. But who cares about your social (and physical) life taking a toll if you have the latest bangers on constant repeat?

Undoubtedly, the invention of headphones has been nothing short of a revolution, whether in the form of a Sony Walkman from the nineties or the latest, moderately overpriced headphones with even more noise-cancelling features than its completely identical predecessor. Gone are the days of needing to purchase your favourite album on vinyl, as record players now serve primarily as aesthetic relics. It is almost unbelievable that you can play whatever you want, whenever you want, simply with a pair of headphones – well, as long as you remember to charge them…

Admittedly, I am slightly too attached to my own headphones, never leaving the house without them. It’s as though they are a part of my identity, my corporeal essence. According to my Spotify stats, I spent fifty-thousand minutes with them glued to my ears in 2022. In fact, it induces an irrational sense of anger when they unexpectedly die on me, forcing me to face the (lack of) music all on my own. I was unfortunately subjected to this reality on the first day of my summer internship, where I rushed out of my house without my headphones. As soon as I boarded my train, it struck me: the outside world is loud. While I actively choose to blast my music over the recommended decibel limit, the discord of chattering families, coughing commuters, and screeching trains underscores how little control we have over our auditory surroundings.

Every minuscule noise in the atmosphere becomes amplified tenfold when all you want to do is sit in peace, free from the cacophony of an infant’s wails at eight in the morning. Ultimately, my headphones cradle me in a cocoon of pleasant sounds that I do want to hear, offering an escape from the misophonic tortures of everyday society. I prefer isolation, if only for my sanity more than anything else.

But what about the downsides? Besides the fact that you risk appearing antisocial when encountering friends, it is difficult to ignore the health hazards of prolonged headphone use: ear infections, hearing loss, dizziness, ear problems such as tinnitus, which causes ringing in the ears, or even hypersensitivity to certain sounds. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, nearly 2% of the global population experienced hearing loss as a result of wearing headphones in 2021, with this figure inevitably increasing annually as more people switch to headphones not just for music, but for calls, gaming, or videos. I have even had instances where my phone has automatically lowered the volume of my music over fear that I might wake up tomorrow not being able to hear Charli XCX at all. And while it’s considerate of my phone to look out for my ear health, perhaps this is an issue I should care about more.

Yet, like all things in life, I believe that embracing headphone culture is great in moderation. There is no need to forsake the joy of streaming your favourite artists as you make your way around the world as long as you aren’t totally frying your eardrums. Personally, I much prefer living my life to the tunes of my various playlists rather than the symphony of the city. But if that’s not a good enough reason to enjoy headphones, then just think about how stylish you’d look with them on! 

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