Thursday, May 26, 2011

Life Without Headphones

When I first bought my iPod in 2005, I can remember people saying that soon after I started using it, I would begin to wonder how I ever lived without it.

I don't think I ever got to that point, but I did begin to rely on it to avoid those people on the street who accost you ask ask you to give money for charity. And then it was important for blocking out the squeals of the subway system. The iPod drowned out people talking near me on cellphones, whiny children, and any noise I didn't want to hear. (I confess that I am not very good at tolerating small repetitive noises, particularly when I can't identify the source.) They became my own little haven as I walked the streets of my city and rode the subway. Since I tend to walk the same routes, it was easy to autopilot and focus on the latest KT Tunstall album or my favorite Mozart Symphony #30.

I went to San Francisco recently, and while I was there, I had to focus more on where I was, since it's not a city I'm very familiar with. I left the headphones in my purse, and spent more time looking at the people around me, spotting costumes from the Bay to Breakers run. I looked at the plants that are common there that aren't so common at home. I listened to the voices, street singers, casual conversations, other out-of-towners.

Not surprisingly, I found all of this very calming. Instead of trying to decipher whatever the heck Tori Amos was singing while I walked, I could focus just on the moment in front of me.

It's amazing how plugged in I am all the time. I sit in front of two screens every day, pop on and off my iPod Touch and BlackBerry on the subway, and Tweet constantly. So after discovering the joy of hearing what's around me, and seeing it fully, on the West Coast, I'm leaving my iPod in my purse here while I commute. (Of course, I'll still use it at the gym, because I can't stand the techno music they play there.) Today, I was able to stop on my way to lunch to give someone directions.

If I'd had my headphones on, I probably would have walked right by.

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