In recent years, I have found that a growing number of teenagers use AirPods or earphones anytime at any place. Have you ever thought about why teenagers have their AirPods with them all the time? Are AirPods socially isolating us?
In the past few weeks, I have experienced a bad social situation with earphones in several instances. These situations occured often at lunch, among five girls, including me, who would always sit together at the same table and would just stop talking. The reason was because we all had our earphones on. I wasn’t sure whether they were listening to music or watching videos or something else, but I clearly knew that nobody was going to talk to the other people at the table. It was all quiet! No one would really start a topic to bring the conversation back again. It was not because people couldn’t hear each other, it was the fact that earphones can really make people go into their own world.
I once saw a video about a young teenager waiting for a bus with an anxious expression on his face. An old man next to him saw the nervous situation and asked the teenager why he looked so anxious. The teenager told the old man that he forgot his earphones at home. Many adults may feel curious and incredulous about how a pair of earphones can have such an impact on a teenager. However, what they don’t know is that people in this generation feel much more stressed than any other generation. According to the Newport Academy, an evidence-based healing center for adolescents and families struggling with mental health issues, “Despite being the most connected generation when it comes to technology, young people are at the highest risk of loneliness and social isolation.” It is easy for us to feel sad, unsafe, and lonely sometimes. We need the feeling of being in our own world by using AirPods because it’s going to help us calm down and be ourselves.
I am an introverted person and I definitely know how it is really hard for me to talk with other people. I mostly won’t go find anyone if I don’t have a specific problem to talk with them about. My friends, my family, and my teachers might see me smiling and laughing all day, however, I’m a totally different person when I’m alone and with my earphones on. But, it is not because of my personality. I think almost everyone experiences something similar – a positive and energetic person when with other people, and a quiet, calm person when alone with their earphones.
In September, my earphones were making noises which made me think they were actually broken. I tried so many times to see if I could fix them, but I failed every time. After that, I started my school life without having earphones with me. It was really “successful” at first. Later on, however, I realized that I kept asking my friends, “Do you mind lending me your earphones?” “Do you have any extra earphones that I might be able to use for a few days?” Their negative answers were not surprising to me, since they also need their earphones. It’s hard for me to even go back and think of the days I passed without having my earphones with me. It was such a pain for me until I finally got a pair of new ones.
I’m not alone. Many of my friends and other teenagers feel the same way. I randomly interviewed 20 students in SSFS and 95% of them explained how they think AirPods are definitely socially isolating us. Among the interviewees, most of them reflected how they use earphones because they sometimes want to isolate themselves intentionally, although they also use earphones because they don’t want to interrupt others. They described how they would either want a quiet time of their own world in order to relieve stress or to make themselves feel less lonely. Some of them also mentioned that when they describe a sad feeling to their friends, they would say they understand everything, but they actually don’t. After that, many teenagers would choose to “digest” everything by themselves in a way by using earphones. Therefore, the AirPod reveals the difficult tension between the need for alone time and the danger of isolation. Are AirPods necessary for teenagers to destress and process life? Or are they really isolating us?