Words by Ryan Croker Art by James Kenison
I recently got a set of noise-cancelling headphones for my birthday. They were really expensive ones, so they work great. I can put them on, listen to my favorite tunes and get zero interference from the outside world. It’s great… until it isn’t. Just the other day, I was working at my desk, focused on my computer, listening to my favorite Beach Boys cover band and I didn’t even notice that my co-worker was trying to communicate with me.
It turns out that the question she had was completely meaningless, but the incident has been haunting me ever since. Should I be able to wield this kind of power? I mean, it’s great that I can get lost in my own private world, but I really struggle with the fact that sound does not exist outside of my headphones for hours at a time. I feel so bad for people like my co-worker, who can’t speak, or sing or even make an audible burp while I have my headphones on.
At least she knows that I’m the reason no sound comes out of her mouth. What about all the people on the other side of the Earth who don’t know me, but just know that, at random periods throughout the day, they simply can’t make a sound? What about the TV newspeople who have to stop trying to tell people about the news until I finish listening to a podcast about how to pick out overalls? What about a dying grandmother giving her final words to her assembled family only for nothing to come out before she fades into oblivion?
I wanted to say something about it on my latest Instagram post, but I felt like I would invite too much attention. I just don’t want to be known as “that guy” who alters the very laws of physics whenever he wants to, at least not publicly.
It’s a difficult situation, and one that I could end by simply never using my headphones again. If only that were possible. I can’t give up my textile podcasts, my Ayn Rand audiobooks, my early 60’s cover bands. I can’t deprive myself of a world’s worth of artistic masterpieces any more than I can deprive myself of air. I guess everyone will just have to get used to a world of silence.