While AirPods have been growing in popularity since their release in 2016, it wasn’t until this month that I finally gave in and asked for a pair for my birthday. I have always lost things easily and the small wireless AirPods seemed like a recipe for disaster. But after watching all my peers use them when walking to class, I decided to give them a try.
One month later and I already have an attachment to my AirPods. Even a short five-minute walk now requires the sound of music. When I have walked without them, I have found myself enjoying the walk less and wishing I could listen to music, a feeling I never had before owning AirPods.
The use of headphones while walking or in public is not new. Ever since the release of the Walkman, people have used headphones to enjoy music, podcasts or other forms of audio on the go. However, the sleek appearance and high price of the earbuds have made them a status symbol, which encourages students to use them even more when walking around campus.
From a health perspective, the increased use of headphones and earbuds has caused an increase in hearing loss in adolescents and young adults. The World Health Organization has projected the hearing loss of 1 billion young adults from overuse of earphones. While they may be normalized, the constant input of media through headphones could have long-term health effects.
The increased popularity of AirPods correspond with a larger increase in media input from technology with teens now spending an average of seven hours and 22 minutes on their phones every day. From texting while we’re crossing the street, to checking emails in line at coffee shops, to wearing headphones while walking, people are constantly consuming technical input and multi-tasking. Multi-tasking releases the stress hormone cortisol as well as adrenaline, which can overstimulate the brain and increase stress levels. Research has even shown that “being in a situation where you are trying to concentrate on a task, and an email is sitting unread in your inbox, can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points.”
Research on happiness shows the importance of social interactions and being present. Using technology or even being around it can be distracting and prevent people from enjoying themselves when with friends and family. Although constantly absorbing technology and media through headphones or physically looking at a cell phone has been normalized, technology is, in many ways, an addiction.
Using AirPods for the first time felt like a change in the game. Rather than walk without music, I could easily listen to music walking to class and fit in with the rest of my peers. Gone were the days of just looking around and taking everything in as I heard and saw it. I realized, however, that I actually used to enjoy walking to class and being present with my thoughts. It was only once I had used and had access to AirPods that walking without them felt less relaxing and more boring.
Most of the negative impacts of technology use are known to technology users and are consistently discussed in today’s media, classroom and work settings. However, these reasons will likely never be enough for people to fully give up their multitasking habits or not have their phone on them at all times.
What is realistic, however, is setting time aside every day or week for no technology input or access. Going on a walk without a phone or headphones, leaving technology devices in a different room when going to bed, or powering technology off for special moments with friends or family are great ways to be present and decrease our dependence on constant technology consumption.
Lizzy Peppercorn is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.