Technology as…Fashion??

Shh…don’t tell anyone…but for the past few weeks, I’ve been conducting a secret experiment. Although, it’s not very scientific, nor very secret, but it’s been fun. For the past few weeks, I added a pair of baby-blue earbuds to my daily wardrobe.

It started around midterms when grading clogged my calendar. I hardly had time to eat much less talk to people, so I wore my headphones in my office while grading papers, checking email, etc. They blocked out background noises and kept people at bay. Later, I participated in the iPod exchange program and received a new iPod Nano. Of course, with a new iPod, I needed new headphones!

Having been content with whatever came with my original Nano, I hadn’t been headphone shopping in ages. I never saw so many headphone selections in my life! How do you choose from so many colors, designs, and styles? I consulted help, only to find out that I knew so little about the subject, I hardly understood the clerk. So, I did what most newbies of technology do: I purchased them in a favorite color at a reasonable price. Sporting my new blue earbuds with my new tiny Nano, daily I wrapped my headphones around my neck as I ran out the door.

Of course, since I started wearing headphones, I noticed everyone else wearing them, too. Check out Wayne’s stylish headphones:

Traveling to a conference with a colleague, I noticed he had no qualm about wearing large, black headphones with a white skull painted on them. They didn’t count against his carry-on quota either. The TSA officials simply accepted them as part of his wardrobe.

Wearing headphones for exercise or studying makes sense to me. Music can help us focus and help our memory and learning (see my Master’s thesis for more), but headphones also isolate us and send a “do not disturb” message to the outside world, and whether you think that’s a good or bad thing, that’s exactly part of the point.

That certainly was true in my case. I needed to focus and get my work done. When alone, though, music provides company. (How ironic that I want company while wearing something that purposefully isolated myself.) The beauty of headphones lie in their portability: we can take them off when wanting to join the outside world.

Obviously, headphones are not a new phenomenon. While growing up, the Walkman was popular, and people wore headphones all the time, but the headphones back then were not nearly as sexy or fashionable as today’s. They were big, bulky, and ineffective. A cheap pair inevitably ripped out some hair and the headband interfered with hairstyles.

With the invention of earbuds, concern of damaging a hairdo no long existed. More than likely, this helped the industry move from function into fashion. From the simple black and white choices of the ‘90s, earbuds and headphones alike evolved into the choices we have today. In fact, it is now possible to purchase earbuds shaped into a gas mask or anything else.

So, some people may purchase headphones or earbuds for the sake of fashion, but I think that fashion is not on people’s minds when they don their headphones. Instead, it’s in anticipation of what the day might bring, and in a sea of people and stress, perhaps they bring a bit of needed solitude… just in a fashionable way.

Articles about headphones and fashion

Lady Gaga design:

Headphones that cover your eyes, too:

Headphone reviews:

~ K

7 thoughts on “Technology as…Fashion??

  1. So true! Yes, they do give the wearer peace and they effectively “close the door” when you need to work, but I do think they can be isolating. Interesting.

  2. i’ll have to reconsider my “basic black” earbuds…. and I love the pic of Wayne. I live with someone who has worn headphones for various reasons for decades…

  3. I wear my headphones often at home – when folding laundry, washing dishes, weeding the garden. I love catching up on my favorite podcasts while I do these chores, but I sometimes wonder about my level of attention. How much quiet time do I need? In some cases, I think I need mundane, repetitive tasks to sort of stop thinking and wander around my own head. When I work in silence my imagination operates differently. I also need the isolation that music offers. It’s (another) sticky situation.

  4. Headphones give me the power to isolate. Anyone who knows me well can say that my love of chatting often supersedes my love of work (in other words, I’m a big, puffy windbag). S has a tendency to toss various writing implements at me in the Writing Center when I have headphones in. Even if my choice of places to isolate is poor, being able to isolate is an important part of my life. I’m not an extrovert by any stretch of the imagination. Socialization exhausts me. Being able to go home, slip my head phones in and tune out the world is not only an important part of my day, it’s an important part of my sanity!

    Being something of an expert on headphones (as any 19 year old in this day and age should be), I have a small guide for you old souls out there:

    1. Never spend over 20 dollars unless you’re in a profession related to music. It’s pointless. Really.
    2. Check the back of the headphone package. The manufacturer will usually print the specs of that specific type of headphones. You’ll find information like cord style, special features, and frequency. In the price range mentioned above, look for anything from 10 to 25 Hz. I generally prefer headphones with a higher range of frequencies over a pair that has high frequencies.
    3. It’s all about branding. Skull Candy headphones are damned expensive because Snoop Dog (the originator of the brand) wants your money. I buy Marshmallow headphones from Wal-Mart and the sound quality is higher than 30 dollar Skull Candy’s that are of equivalent quality.
    4. Remember to turn the volume down! I never go over half of my volume bar when listening to classical, while harder metal needs to be turned up at full volume. Play around with what volume suits your favorite style of music.


  5. It’s funny…my “experiment” is over, but I’m so attached to my headphones now, I just can’t part with them. Those who have read this post now comment on them, and I’m almost embarrassed, but I’m still not going without them. Perhaps once my stress level recedes, I can remove them.

    Thanks for reading, everyone!
    ~ K

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