When I moved to New York City this past August after having lived in Atlanta for two years and in center city Philadelphia for the 6 years prior to that, I had to do a lot of adjusting to the way I approached even the simplest aspects of life. The most obvious, ubiquitous and cliché part of moving to NYC from anywhere else in the world, with the exception of maybe London, is that everything costs more here. A bottle of beer at a local bar, the universal barometer by which I measure the cost of any culture, might cost five dollars in Philly, maybe even four if you’re in the suburbs. However, those same 12 ounces of domestic lager will set you set back eight in Manhattan. And, that doesn’t even include the tip.
Sure, everything costs at least 60% more in NYC and you have to be willing to take your life into your own hands every time you try to cross an avenue, even if you have the right of way and do so within the confines of the cross walk. However, the aspect about New York City living that caught me off guard the most, happens to be a small, relatively benign characteristic that I have not witnessed in such widespread commonality anywhere else — Everyone wears their headphones here, all the time. No matter their age, race, creed, appearance, time of day or choice of audio device, New Yorkers have their headphones in 24/7. Fuck, I was just in the Best Buy on Union Square and saw a dude wearing headphones, buying headphones!
I’m not complaining though, far from it in fact. Being an avid music fan and lover of concerts, I’ve quickly embraced this social phenomenon about Manhattan that I would guess has a strong correlation with the fact that very few people here drive cars. The point of this treatise, however, isn’t to analyze regression results of headphone use amongst residents of the five boroughs. My goal is to educate my readers by sharing with you what I’ve learned by wearing my headphones all over Manhattan the past nine months.
If someone walking near you is wearing their headphones and you don’t know them, please don’t stop them to ask for directions, the time of day or even a light. If you can accomplish any of these three requests via sign language or pantomime more power to you, but headphones in, means leave me alone. This goes doubly if you are a tourist, speak poor English or somehow don’t realize that you’re already standing on Broadway. Look at the street sign you dumb tourist! Moving on.
If you and your friend decide to make a casual comment, good or bad, about the person sitting in your immediate vicinity at the local coffee shop who is wearing their headphones, assume that they can hear you. Often times, I will keep my headphones in my ears long after whatever I was listening to has ended, just so people will leave me alone in public (see previous rule). I’ve even been known to wear my headphones with the end of the cord just stuffed into my pocket not even plugged into anything to accomplish this charade.
If the person standing next you on the corner has small ear-bud headphones in but is talking out loud to no one in particular, understand that they’re not a homeless person talking to themselves and they are most certainly not talking to you. Unless of course you know the person and they actually are talking to you. More likely though, their ear-buds are plugged into their iPhone and they’re having a phone conversation with someone who isn’t you. Leave this person alone and don’t try to uphold the other end of the conversation that they aren’t having with you.
Most people find it extremely irritating when the pedestrians around them somehow impede their preferred movement through the crowd; this can take the form of speed, direction, left or right lane of the sidewalk, etc. But when your headphones are turned up so loudly that the dogs being served in Chinatown start barking, you’ve got to become hyper aware of those around you because you’ve just lost your primary sense of being able to perceive surrounding foot traffic – your ambient sense of hearing. Sure you can hear the new Justin Bieber single in crystal clear HD in your noise canceling, On-ear Beats by Dre wireless headphones, but you’re totally oblivious to the hurried businessman forced to shuffle down the block behind you because you’ve decided to literally stop and smell the roses.
Lastly, get rid of those stupid looking soup canned-sized headphones. They look ridiculous on you, you’re not a DJ and they are blocking my view of that hot girl on the subway behind you I am actually trying to see. I applaud Monster for making the $150+ headphone market popular again by way of cleverly pairing up (marketing) their product with Dr. Dre. I’ve loved Dre ever since The Chronic came out in 1992 and have even reached back into his N.W.A catalog with mixed results. However, this in no way justifies spending that much money on headphones that look that stupid. It certainly accomplishes letting those around you know to leave you alone (rule #1) but it does so at the cost of your humility. If you must buy grossly expensive headphones at least get a sleek in-ear pair that don’t stand out like a pair of double D implants at a nursing home.