Can we talk headphones for a minute?  Not which brand is the best or why Beats by Dre are garbage.  Just the simple fact of etiquette, not for those who wear them, but everyone else.  There is something about headphones that throw a monkey wrench into social situations and I feel like I really need to chime in with some thoughts.

There are many occasions when wearing headphones is appropriate and sometimes it just downright dickish.  Instead of ranting and giving examples of those, I’m going to focus on the times where people wear them to help stay focused or just to pass the time while doing a mundane thing.  For me particularly, I wear headphones while commuting to and from work.  It’s about an hour from my front door to my desk, I do this twice a day, five days a week.

Working a 9 to 5 is something that, if I paid close enough attention to it, would drive me mad.  The monotony, the same pattern every single day.  I make sure not to walk down the same block two days in a row in fear that I will start to notice the hamster wheel I’m running in.  My commute consists of about a ten minute drive to the train station from my house, then the train ride is about thirty minutes and then I have a nice twenty minute walk from the station to my desk.  I work in downtown Chicago and have done so for more than a decade.  The excitement and enchantment that comes with going “downtown” has all been washed away for me.  Don’t get me wrong, every day I notice a little something that maybe I didn’t notice every day.  Walking past the Sears/Willis Tower can still blow my mind once in awhile.

I’m getting way off track here.  Headphones.  We’re talking about headphones, not my lazy life choices.  So!  Basically, I wear my headphones to lose myself in a conversation while getting to and from work.  Generally I listen to podcasts and audiobooks to pass the time.  Occasionally if I need a pick me up I’ll fire up Pandora, but I don’t have a large data plan so I try to limit that.  So, while I waddle to work or sit on the quiet car on the train (ugh, quiet car behavior, that’s a whole other topic) listening to stories helps keep me entertained.

The time I run into issues, is when I get to the elevator at work.  For some reason, people to go two extremes in the elevator.  Either they keep quiet (as you should) and enjoy the ride.  Or, there are those folks that want to turn the thirty seconds they spend in this cramped little moving room into a social club.  When someone greets me in the elevator and I don’t respond, they either see my headphones or they don’t.  Now, here is where it gets interesting and leads to several different situations.

  • Situation 1:  The person does not see the headphones.  In this scenario, the person greets me and I don’t respond.  Instead of continuing on with their day, they decide to either say it louder or wave their hand in front of my face soliciting a response.  At this point, I have no choice but to exaggeratedly pull a headphone out and give them a “Yes?” response.  Then they either apologize for interrupting or they feel the need to strike up a conversation.  How full of yourself are you that you assume I want to stop listening to what I chose to listen to, just to talk to you for ten seconds?  Please apologize for not noticing the headphones and shut the hell up.  This may come off as a curt response, but think about the opposite.  What if you were standing in the elevator and I shoved my headphones into your ears forcing you to listen to what I want?
  • Situation 2:  The person sees the headphones, respects your decision to listen to what you want and continues on with their day.  

We are all adults here and your feelings shouldn’t be hurt if I don’t want to talk to you.  Also, most of the time I can hear you, but choose not to respond because I’m trying to focus on the conversation in my ears.  ALSO, when you talk about me to the other person in the elevator, I can hear you and you come off like more of an asshole than you are assuming I am.  So, please keep this in mind when you’re wiggling your arms around or talking way too loud to get someone’s attention.  If you greet someone and they don’t respond, move on with your life.


Note: Podcasts I regularly listen to: Spontaneanation, Nerdist, How Did This Get Made, You Made It Weird, Penn’s Sunday School, Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast, Doug Loves Movies & WTF.