Noise cancelling your life. Don’t hear, but listen.

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It’s one of those days where I need to go outside. The dreaded world on the other side of my keyboard that requires my presence to interact with its inhabitants in order to get done. After a silent morning I hop in the car and drive off. In my personal rolling steel cage, everything is fine. The hum of the airconditioning, the soothing sounds of a podcast or a dulcet Spotify Playlist… I slide into my day. But just before work I just want to pop in for my load of take-away Java. I open the car door and am assaulted by … noise ! Honking cars, the sounds of a jackhammer and a piece of sidewalk having violent intercourse… people shouting.

… this is mostly geared towards single-celled-hard-hearing 3 year olds.

The sounds of a busy city. I scuttle inside the coffee-shop for relief and am confronted by the most terrible torture modern man can inflict upon himself in the morning hours : The RADIO.  Blasting from strategically dispersed overhead speakers there is no escape to the blaring sounds of what needs to pass for “morning entertainment” these days. A quick analysis of both the volume, the content and the delivery of ‘Mainstream radio’ teaches me that this is mostly geared towards single-celled-hard-hearing 3 year olds. Its lack of quality and content highly compensated by the overzealous delivery in volume.

Its like people vomiting into my ears .. My hands instinctively reach up to my neck and, like some kind of life jacket grab onto my noise cancelling headphones. I slide them over my ears and … relief. The auditory maelstrom is dimmed and replaced with the a soothing mumbling nothing. All I need to do is tap my smartphone and music surrounds me. In a flash I’m taken back to an old 80’s teen flick. The retro-wave beats streaming from the interwebs into my eardrums form an instant soundtrack for the  situation i’m in.  The experience is complete. Just like in the movies you ONLY hear the music and see the main character go through the motions. No pesky ambient noise, no people chattering.. Just music and motion. 

… In many ways putting on noise cancelling headphones is like putting on your  the earphones of your Walkman back in the 80’s

In many ways putting on noise cancelling headphones is like putting on your  the earphones of your Walkman back in the 80’s. A defiant and deeply personal gesture to grab those little speakers covered by their orange foam and place them firmly over your ears .Telling to world to be quiet, erecting an auditory wall around you. These days they are wireless and their noise cancelling abilities range much further then their prehistoric ancestors. But the gesture is the same.

Even their roll has changed. In the perfect storm of the pre-covid area where landscape offices, noisy colleagues and constant one-on-one Skype meetings resulted in a never ending landslide of noise and distraction … The noise cancelling headset became an essential component of the office worker. The only way to focus (and in many ways stay sane) was to pop on your headphones and cancel out whatever mayhem was going on around you. The joke of the entire philosophy behind a landscape office: Physically putting everyone in one room, only to end up with a collection of individuals fighting for selective isolation of the people around them. Paradox anyone ?

If you don’t hear me .. are you still willing to listen?

The conclusion is that we all need and enjoy our little personal audio stream that shies away from the mainstream noise around us. Just like we all have our own Twitter feed, watch our own selection of Netflix shows and are addicted to our very personal mix of insanity on Reddit, Youtube our TikTok.  My only hope is that (just like with the other social media bubbles) even though we don’t hear each other.. we are still willing to just .. listen.

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A bit like Bullock: How life is a little like the movie “The Net”.

Computer that asks if you want to online.

You might be a middle-aged digital dinosaur if you still remember this movie but, back in 1995 “The Net” (Starring Sandra Bullock) was a bit of a hit movie depicting a digital recluse coder who gets her identity stolen and actually has to go outside … to get it back.

The movie raised a lot of chuckles in the theatre as it depicted the daily life of Angela Bennet. Working from home fulltime she hardly leaves the house and orders everything online. From pizza to groceries and from software to styling products (just check out that hair). She communicates online with her clients who have never met her in real life and don’t know what she looks like. It was an exaggerated depiction of a lifestyle that would, despite the modern day possibilities of the internet, never become mainstream .. right ?

Flash forward a quarter of a century.

Flash forward a quarter of a century and look around. After day 300 of “working from home” I finish up my umpteenth videoconference with a team that I have never ever met in person. Unlike in “The Net” I do know what they look like but only as far down as their bellybuttons. The chime of my video doorbell rings and delivery guy number 3 of the day drops off another package. Via the Ring app on my phone I instruct him to just leave it on the doorstep. I wait to open the door until he drives off. I have truly mastered the art of consumption-without-human-contact.

Most of the conversations I have (aside from those with my dog and my spouse) are also with computers. I ask Google for the weather, tell Siri to play Retrowave music in the bathroom and try to convince Alexa to disclose the the actual age of Jennifer Connelly. The Netflix computer algorithm suggests I should watch some Spanish sitcom tonight and at about 10pm my Smartwatch tells me I should go to bed if I want to be rested tomorrow morning.

I’m worse than Bullock.

Looking back at my day, I’m not “like” Bullock in the net .. I’m even worse. The combination of the technology at hand and the current Covid Crisis has decreased the “face to face” human interactions significantly. We mail-order everything online, communicate digitally instead of face to face and are (almost) perfectly happy with the convenience. Sure, right now its because pandemic is sweeping the globe, and sneezing within a five yard radius from other people is considered extremely rude .. But still… Will things ever go back to “normal”?

This probably isn’t normal.

The answer is: Probably not. Even the biggest internet-hater has now tasted the sweet nectar of home delivery and thanks to working from home, none of us will ever need to wear pants again (maybe thats a bit strong). But I hope we don’t forget the value of human interaction. Buying something else because they are “out of stock” at the store helps you discover new products. Waiting in line at the restaurant gives you the opportunity to meet new people. Convenience is one thing, but I hope we all are social animals at some point. So when all of this covid stuff is over I thrive to go outside, shop “realtime”, meet people face to face and do all the inefficient “analogue” stuff that doesn’t take place behind a screen. If only so nobody can steal my identity 🙂

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