Bruins, Lend Me Your Ears

By Chris Collins 

For the sake of all our college experience, we, as UCLA students, need to stop wearing headphones on campus. Headphones are overwhelmingly easy to spot at UCLA. Stroll down Bruin Walk, or anywhere on campus, and you risk drowning in a sea of white plastic earbuds. Unfortunately, the damage they cause is not as outwardly apparent. 

Headphones blast music into your ears, potentially leading to permanent hearing loss. We’re all aware of this fact, yet we purposefully disregard it. It’s easy to shrug and listen at full volume because none of us are experiencing that damage right now. However, there is an immediate threat: headphones are wasting our scarce time in college by encouraging us to isolate instead of interact.

When I first thought of college, I imagined a home of discourse and discussion; a campus flowering with interactions, and a noticeable sense of togetherness. In actuality, I’ve found that almost everyone lives in a world of their own: one that exists in the six-and-a-half inches between their right and left ear. And so seldom do our six-and-a-half inch worlds overlap with each other’s. 

When we wear headphones, we take the 419 acre campus of UCLA filled with some 45,000 odd students and confine it to the six-and-a-half inch world separating us from everyone else. 

As students currently living the college experience, it’s hard to know what the most important and lasting decisions we make will be. It’s hard to know how the habits we fall into will define our time in college. But what is clear, is that we all want the most out of this experience, and we’re trying to figure that out as we live it. 

We shouldn’t only be learning for ourselves, we need to be learning what we can from others as well. We should listen to experts like Dr. Daniel F. Chambliss, an American Sociological Association prize winner and author of How College Works, who explains that what really matters in college “is who meets whom, and when.” What makes the difference between a positive college experience and a wasted one, according to an expert, are “the people.”

For us, figuring out the ‘when’ part isn’t the problem. It’s right now: the few years that we share with tens of thousands of people who run around calling themselves Bruins. The problem becomes figuring out ‘who’ we’re supposed to meet when headphones are destroying the number of people we can meet. 

It’s hard to meet any person wearing headphones, not only because they can’t hear you, but because we recognize headphones as a shut and locked door to soliciting conversations. A study out of Bitkom Research Institute in Germany found that 42% of one-thousand people intentionally wore headphones to tell the people around them that they didn’t want to be disturbed. And when people are wearing headphones, we assume that we are the disturbance. 

There are many more reasons to wear headphones and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s lovely to listen to music, to stare up at the trees, to have the right song hit, making every step you take fall on beat with the season. However, the problem is, wearing those headphones, intentionally or not, broadcasts a clear message: you’re uninterested in having the conversations that Chambliss claims make college matter. 

Whether it’s 42%, or 100% of headphone users who consciously decide to project a ‘don’t talk to me’ attitude, anyone wearing headphones communicates that same message, regardless of their intent. 

A study evaluating college students’ perception of others wearing headphones found that students who wore headphones were seen as “socially introverted” and “less likely to engage in social interaction.” The study, conducted by  Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a Psychological and Brain Science Professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, concluded that we create our “own isolated world by donning the guise of someone who prefers isolation, whether [we] want to or not.” She goes on to say that those headphones cause others “to back off from you, which in turn reinforces your feeling of isolation.” 

Reinforcing feelings of isolation and causing tens of hundreds of those potential people we’re meant to meet to back off is a waste. It’s not just a waste of the tens of thousands dollars or the years of our lives we commit to being here, but it’s a waste of others’ time and money who maybe want more than isolation and deaf ears. It’s a frivolous, unnecessary waste especially since every streamable inch of content you could be consuming on those headphones is eternal. That song won’t go away, that podcast can’t magically disappear, they will always be there. What won’t are the “who” and the “when” that’ll disappear the moment your time at college is over. 

Try. Nothing will happen. Not immediately. One day won’t turn a campus of isolation into the budding place we imagined it could be, but one day is the start to something that can turn that place into a reality. Try. Nothing will happen. One day without headphones won’t make you worse and another day with won’t make you any better. And we deserve better. So I urge you, for your own sake and the sake of everyone you call a Bruin, walk on campus in the silence that the world gives to you and not the one you make for yourself.

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