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Headphone etiquette

Laura McCrystal | Monday, April 6, 2009

The girl at the table next to me last week was listening to “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira. The guy across the room from me was listening to rock and roll with a lot of drums.

They both had their headphones on and were immersed in their homework.

I don’t know what their music taste is because I peer over their shoulders. I don’t just imagine what they are listening to, either.

I know because I can hear it.

The first time I heard music through someone’s headphones was last year in the basement of the library. My friend and I thought it was hilarious to watch the girl sit in her booth and bounce her head to the beat. The humor faded, however, when we realized how hard it was to concentrate with a thumping bass in the background.

In the past few weeks, I have heard music through headphones in every silent room in which I attempt to study. I only wish this were an exaggeration.

Even my own dorm room is not a safe-haven. While I share my roommate’s love for the Joshua Radin Pandora station, I fear for her eardrums.

I can get over the distraction of the music. Well, most of the time. I am currently having trouble focusing on this column because I can hear not just one, but two people’s music blasting through their headphones.

I can also laugh it off most of the time. I’ve exchanged some giggles with complete strangers over other people’s odd taste in music. The listeners are always oblivious though – there’s no way to hear our laughter over their tunes.

I am most concerned for the personal health of these music lovers. Our generation is the first to use headphones from a young age. I don’t think that I need to do much medical research to figure out that we are going to go deaf if we continue blasting headphones at unnecessarily high volumes.

You think your grandparents are hard of hearing? I can’t imagine how loudly our own grandchildren will have to shout at us.

I have a solution: just turn it down. Everyone wins – your ears and the people around you.

This solution is easier said than done. Most of the time, I am sure that the studious listeners are oblivious to the fact that I can hear their music. I am also fairly certain that they would be embarrassed if did know.

So here’s a test. Adjust your music to the volume level of your choice. Then pull the headphones out of your ears and press them lightly against something else. Can you still hear the music? If so, it’s too loud. Turn it down and try again.

I guarantee that it is possible to enjoy music at a lower volume. I know this because, when I’m not desperately seeking a silent study space, I occasionally listen to my iPod. I make sure that no one else can hear it, though. I would be mortified if anyone knew that sometimes I listen to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” on repeat.