#112: White Noise

Last year, I wrote an essay for Real Life about AirPods despite not owning a pair myself at the time. That was intentional and fairly essential to the piece, as I was examining the earbuds’ externalities: how it feels to inhabit public space without an increasingly ubiquitous pair of headphones when everyone else is wearing them. If AirPods offer a near-perfect user experience to the users themselves, what kind of user experience do they impose upon the non-users? (That’s a good question to ask about many things, by the way). Anyway, I finally stopped resisting and have my own AirPods now. They’re mostly good and bad in all the ways I expected. The feeling of activating noise cancellation by squeezing the bud’s stalk for the first time was one of those technology moments that I’ll never forget—feeling the hum of the external world dim as smoothly as a laptop screen's brightness. The feature seems like black magic, transforming physical reality into another device setting; I immediately cautioned myself to use it sparingly. Interestingly, the noise-cancellation toggle, by highlighting that contrast between silence and the textured ambient noise that always surrounds us, has actually increased my awareness of the latter, along with my desire to hear it rather than block it.

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