Sunday, September 21, 2008

Headphone Harold wore his headphones
Through the night and through the day
He said "I'd rather hear my music
than the dumb things people say."

In the city's honkin traffic,
He heard trumpets 'stead of trucks.
Down the quiet country backroads
He heard drums instead of ducks.

Through the patterin' springtime showers
He heard guitars instead of rain.
Down the track at the railroad crossin',
He heard the trombones--
not the train.
---Shel Silverstein, "Headphone Harold"

Sadly enough, the world today is filled with Headphone Harolds. Maybe people aren't getting hit by trains left and right, but the society as a whole has become more and more closed off, each person isolating themselves through music or the internet. We've stopped socializing, and the majority of our social interactions take place online or over the phone. Nobody pays attention to what is going on in the outside world when the iPod is out--even if a conversation is taking place, the headphones stay in the ears and continue to blast out music. I can't count the number of times I've tried talking to somebody who said, "What?...What?" but refused to turn off their music. The fact that we're choosing to isolate ourselves is very worring. More and more people are being treated for depression, the divorce rate is around 50%, and just about every person on the street is stressed out over something or other. Sure, there's many different contributing factors, but the general problem is that we've lost our ability to communicate. No, IMing and email and texting do not count. Something keeps us from speaking to each other in person anymore, and somehow we've fooled ourselves into thinking we can get to know somebody else through the text we read.
Nobody realizes that people can hide what they're feeling when they only know somebody online, or they can filter out aspects of themselves that might be unfavorable. My dad was telling us this weekend about a new person at work who had just moved from Mississippi to marry a girl he'd had an online relationship with and had only met once in person. For some reason, our culture has come to think anything natural is disturbing or unsettling--perhaps because we no longer know how to deal with anything we don't like. Headphone Harold can't stand dumb people, so he cuts himself off and suddenly becomes rather dumb himself. When we suddenly would rather listen to ourselves only, and filter out anything we'd rather not hear either by ignoring it or blocking it out with music, we suddenly forget how to function in a natural setting. As a whole, the society is at a disadvantage by closing off from the world. As our technological knowledge grows, our general and natural knowledge is dying. When a person isolates himself by music or any other technology, he becomes more close-minded. He suddenly knows no other opinions but his own; if another opinion comes along that disagrees with his, the person is instantly branded as stupid or insane. (As a simple example, look up any song on youtube and read the comments underneath--inevitably there will be several people berating one person who left a comment along the lines of, "so-and-so sucks!!! you people actually listen to this?!!!") By forgetting how to consider other's opinions, he is limiting his own knowledge by refusing to change himself. I do think this is a result of using technology and music as an excuse to stop having a real-live conversation with a real-live human being, or to just listen to the world around them instead of drawing in.

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