Here's What Happened When I Ditched My AirPods for a Week

Last Monday, I noticed something that, for the past two years, had been invisible to me. And as I contemplated on that sudden observation, a quote from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 popped into my head: "In her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind."

What I had noticed were the wireless earbuds that clung to the ears of almost every student on the sidewalk. Everyone around me was voluntarily encased in an impenetrable Bluetooth bubble. Like the characters in Fahrenheit 451, they replaced the sounds of life with a constant stream of music and talk. Now, Boston University, a school of 30,000 students, has never felt so isolated.  

Photo Caption: "Seashell Radios" from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 

Photo Credit: Wordpress 

In the days following my realization, I did a little research on the earbuds that I saw on every corner of campus. By far, the most popular Bluetooth headphones were Apple's AirPods. But since AirPods came out in 2016, every major cell phone and headphone brand has debuted their take on Bluetooth earbuds.  On top of that, hundreds of knockoffs on brand name earbuds are available for low prices on Amazon and other bargain retail sites. Bluetooth earbuds aren't the only kinds of audio devices on the market either. Classic earbuds and high-tech noise-canceling over-ear headphones also compete for students' attention. The bottom line is that it's never been easier to plug in and tune out.

Now, I am in no place to judge. I love my "seashells" too. The constant noise and stimulation that goes along with living in downtown Boston turn my Airpods into a much-needed barrier between my sanity and the oncoming traffic. But as my thoughts unraveled, I couldn’t help but think that AirPods had taken that sense of necessity to an extreme. Just because you can plug in the minute you step outside, doesn’t mean you should.

Photo Credit: The Verge

So to challenge this necessity and reconnect with the city, I ditched my AirPods for a week. My only rule was that while I was out on campus, I was not allowed to listen to music or radio on headphones of any kind. At the end of my experiment, I came to the following three conclusions:

1. The campus is a living organism.

When I took my headphones out for a prolonged period, I began to notice things that I had never heard before. In the evenings in Kenmore Square, you can hear cheering coming from the Red Sox fans at Fenway Park. As I walked to central in the morning, my pace was set by the rhythmic slamming of the front doors of the brownstones on Bay State Road. When I crossed the BU Bridge, my attention was grabbed by the hypnotic rush of cars on the highway down below. In West Campus, I even took notice of the jubilant echoes of laughter coming from the freshman dorms. The sounds of Boston University turn the bustling streets on campus into a single living body. Each part of the campus is like a limb. It has distinct qualities and sounds that illustrate its purpose. And all these parts are linked together by the steady pulse of student life.

2. Overheard conversations are both entertaining and heartbreaking.

So I know that eavesdropping is bad. I never listen to anyone's private conversations to spy on them or try to learn gossip about someone else. But when I was in crowded places such as the GSU Starbucks, it’s easy to overhear some interesting stories. Throughout the week I heard conversations about insane drunk nights out, messy breakups, and applications for dream internships. Some stories were funny, memorable, and way too crazy to repeat online. Others were about defeat and the struggle to overcome the growing pains that come with the transition to adulthood. The common denominator between all the conversations I overheard was the authenticity. I wasn’t just learning about my school, I was learning to empathize with my classmates by learning about their struggles.

3. I have been missing out.

After taking in all the new sounds and stories of BU's campus, I realized that these experiences weren't new at all. They were always there on campus, right in front of me, but I never paid attention long enough to appreciate them. Even before this experiment, when I didn't have my headphones in, I was too stuck in my head to realize the vibrant life that was happening all around me. On top of that, putting in headphones made it even more difficult to hear and feel Boston University. My time at BU is almost half over. If I don’t take my headphones out and pay attention, I could miss out on a huge part of my college experience. 

Photo Credit: Mashable

I may have ditched my Airpods for only a week, but the results of my little experiment will last for the rest of my time at BU. I encourage everyone who reads this to try the same experiment. You never know what you may notice and hear!


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