Inner Space

BBC News looks at the psychology of portable music players, the significance of the aura or bubble that surrounds one the moment the music starts, and why it’s so appealing. A key point is that headphones in part allow one to regain control of the senses – the world represents a bombardment of visual and sonic messages, and by replacing the sonic shell, you in part get to choose your sensual world, rather than moving through the one the world chooses for you.

I didn’t start wearing a music player until my late 30s, and remember the experience being very different than expected at first – it wasn’t just fun to listen to music – the iPod literally changed the way I felt in the environment. It was almost too much. The experience feels much more normal to me now.


Some women use earphones to deflect unwanted attention, finding it easier to avoid responding because they look already occupied. In the same way, removing earphones when talking to someone sends a strong message about how interested one is in what is being said. It pays the speaker a compliment.

Music: Gong :: Master Builder

3 Replies to “Inner Space”

  1. Absolutely to that last bit! I’ve definitely used headphones in Berkeley and on BART as a way to avoid panhandlers, ranting loonies and general creeps. It makes it much easier to avoid eye contact and look like you’re off in another world. And confidentially, I wear them at work with no music playing, to get people to leave me alone…

  2. Unfortunately, I cannot wear headphones at work. I am constantly bombarded by my coworkers asking me questions that I need to answer. I would be pulling the earplugs out of my ears every 5 minutes.

  3. I got my first Walkman, one of the first Walkmen, when I was 16, and I remember it as an almost life-changing experience. You’re right about re-gaining control of the senses, it’s a kind of meditative selective sensory deprivation. I do find it strange being around people with headphones on though, sometimes feel like I’m a little too out-of-touch.

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