I Tried Not Wearing Headphones for a Week

Last week, I was getting settled on the train to downtown Chicago when it happened. I popped in my ear buds and hit play on my favorite Spotify playlist and then…silence. My headphones—brand new by the way—had decided to give up on me. I tried my best to figure out what was wrong with them and even hold them in awkward positions to see if it might fix anything, but it was useless. As someone who constantly has music playing in the background, living without my headphones for the ride to and from Chicago seemed like torture. Little did I know, those few hours would turn into a week of "headphoneless" silence.

In today’s world, it’s difficult to walk around outside without seeing at least one person plugged into their phone with headphones in. Whether we’re talking on our phones or listening to our favorite songs or even catching up on our latest Netflix obsession, when we’re using headphones we’re usually anywhere but in the moment. They’re a convenient way of blocking out the world around us without bothering anyone else. That’s exactly why I decided to turn this unforeseen bump in the road into an opportunity to see what I’ve been missing. It was surprisingly more interesting than I thought it would be. Here are a few things I learned from not wearing headphones for a week.

1. You notice nature and the world around you.

When you don’t have a pair of ear buds or headphones directly blasting sound into your ears, there’s a lot you find out you were missing before. Birds are chirping, dogs are barking and the Northwestern campus is truly at its most beautiful this time of year. When you’re not in your own little technological world or blocking out the world, you notice so much more going on around you.

2. You hear everything.

This can be both good and bad, depending on what mood you’re in. Occasionally, I would be on public transportation and have no way of blocking out the loud and annoying conversations of strangers around me. This was a problem, especially on really busy days when I needed to travel but didn’t want to interact with or listen to any part of the world around me. On other days, though, I would be watching Netflix on my phone at home and my friend and I would start a conversation about what I was watching. This was nice because, if I had my headphones in while I was doing this, we probably never would have bonded over the show or had a conversation at that moment because I would have been plugged in and trapped in my own technological bubble.

3. When you do listen to music, it’s more liberating.

On some days, I missed being able to listen to music whenever I wanted to without interrupting someone else’s day. That’s when I decided to let loose and just play whatever I wanted out loud at home or around friends. This felt great because I wasn’t confined to enjoying my music on my own and it created an atmosphere around me that allowed me to have fun and interact with people while still enjoying something I love.

4. There’s more time to think.

Again, this was both good and bad. It was nice to be able to take a walk and think about my day or upcoming plans instead of mindlessly putting on a summer playlist. With finals and life stress on my mind, though, it gave me time to think about everything I needed to get done, which is exactly what my headphones gave me time away from before.

5. Not being plugged in is actually pretty relaxing.

All of that being said, it felt good not to be plugged into my own little world multiple times a day. Even though it was difficult to travel or even fall asleep sometimes without my music playing, it was also nice to be more connected with the world around me and take a minute to enjoy more of what the world has to offer. Now, I think everyone should give this a try. Maybe take it one day at a time and put your headphones away during your walk to class or to work. You never know what you might notice!

So yes, headphones are super convenient and a pretty big part of today’s technology-obsessed society. Being too plugged in, though, can keep us from enjoying major parts of life and being more social. Sometimes you need that time to yourself, but sometimes it’s nice to put the music aside and just take in everything around you. I still don’t have a new pair of headphones but, to be honest, I’m looking forward to seeing how long I can last without them. It’s a simple way to get out of our own minds and connect a little more with the world around us.