Adam Jutt ’25 is planning on majoring in math and economics. Aside from being an opinions editor, he is a member of Club Tennis and involved with InterVarsity. Feel free to email Adam at email@example.com.
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.
Suppose a fictional, really cool sophomore named Adam is on a walk. While passing through the Sadler Terrace area, he notices an acquaintance about thirty feet in front of him, leaning back at one of those sweet standing tables with the bars instead of seats. He gets lost in thought thinking about how cool, comfortable and — I’ll say it — sexy those tables are, and how lucky his acquaintance and her friends were to snag one of them, considering how in-demand they always are. By this point, he is only about twelve feet away, and his acquaintance has noticed him. She smiles and gives a light wave. He, a great person, waves back. When he reaches a distance of about six feet away — a distance which has really had its time in the spotlight these last couple years — she says, “How’s it going Adam?” Or at least, he assumes that to be what she said.
You see, he is wearing earbuds at the time, which are blaring the song “Kinda Like a Big Deal” by Clipse (the hip-hop duo comprised of Pusha T and No Malice), featuring Kanye West. The song renders her voice inaudible, meaning any hope of his comprehending her inquiry rests on the combination of his lip-reading skills and his ability to make context-based probabilistic assumptions. Thankfully, his ability to make context-based probabilistic assumptions is up there with the best, so he responds in stride, “I’m doing well! How about yourself?” Unfortunately, he realizes just as he is about to pass her that her response, which — as a reminder — is fully inaudible, is a more in-depth one than “I’m good, thanks,” meaning contextually that she hopes the conversation to be more than passing greetings. Meaning he needs to stop walking. He does, and nods his head as she continues to verbalize whatever it is she is verbalizing — a nodding which she will never know is perfectly in-rhythm with the iconic beat of “Kinda Like a Big Deal”— all the while fumbling around in his left khaki short pocket for his phone so that he can lower the volume. The pertinent button is eventually found and subsequently pushed repeatedly, causing No Malice’s voice to turn from a yell into a whisper into nothing at all, as if he is slowly coming to the embarrassing realization that he really isn’t a particularly big deal at all.
The first moment the volume is low enough for the acquaintance’s voice to be comprehensible, however, is the moment her voice takes on an inflection indicating that she has just finished asking him a question. Uh-oh. Context-based probabilistic assumptions can’t help him here, as there are simply too many possible questions she could have asked. A long silence falls over the twosome, as he does not know how to proceed. His only options are to admit he hasn’t heard a word she has said so far or to just say yes and hope it suffices as an answer. Between a rock and a hard place, as they say back in his home state of Ohio. In this moment he would happily accept death over the awkwardness.
This scenario, though it may seem relatively uncommon, is actually one of many uncomfortable social dilemmas earbud walkers face on a near daily basis. The scenario described above is probably the most common archetype of earbud-related social awkwardness, but there are plenty of others. For example, taking your earbuds out to hear what a friend crossing paths with you has to say, only to discover that all they wanted to say was hey. Or, realizing you had earbuds in — though nothing playing in them — while talking to that professor you ran into outside Chancellor’s Hall, meaning they probably thought you had elected to avoid giving them your full attention. Sayonara, grad school rec letter.
Every day, hundreds of earbud walkers on this campus, like myself, have their days ruined by marginally awkward interactions such as those. And yet, for some strange reason, the plight of the earbud walker is not even on the periphery of the campus zeitgeist. Everyone seems to act as if this issue doesn’t exist; it’s as if we are all wearing our own metaphorical earbuds, which block the clear evidence of the injustice from reaching our consciences just as earbuds block external sounds from reaching the ears.
Allow me to expound on the nature of the injustice more systematically.
Whenever two acquaintances run into each other, one with earbuds and one without, a power dynamic is created with the potential to alter the relationship forever. The person with earbuds becomes the servant to the person without. The earbud wearer must simultaneously be ready to pause their media the instant the other person starts saying something beyond hello, but at the same time must avoid coming across as too forward by noticeably pausing their media if the other individual intended for the exchange to be a simple nod or smile. They live at the beck and call, as they say in my home city of Cincinnati, of their naked eared peers. The burden of avoiding awkwardness for some reason falls exclusively on their backs; the earbud wearer can’t possibly get it right, while the earbud-less one can’t possibly mess it up. It’s exhausting.
Every time I see a protest going on outside Sadler, my heart jumps at the thought that someone may finally be shedding light on the serious persecution of people like myself at the hands of those anti-earbudoclasts, only to feel a pang of despair as I realize the cause of the protest is “something that actually matters and actually affects real people’s quality of life in a non-negligible way.” I try to be optimistic, but the fact of the matter is that I and everyone else like me are the ostracized and forgotten souls of the campus. Modern-day lepers, forced into a social system built by and for people who go throughout life somehow uncompelled by the allure of limitless knowledge and art, only ever an earbud or two away. And I’m tired of it.
I know what you’re thinking. “Adam, literally every demographic you are a part of is the demographic which has dominated society and systematically mistreated basically every other demographic. Quit pretending you have experienced hardship. I know you’re an opinions editor and I know one of your associates was supposed to write for this print but at the last minute they said they couldn’t so you had to fill in even though you weren’t schedule to write until next print, meaning this idea was desperate and half-baked, but that is no excuse to do that thing where you write about an issue that quite literally isn’t an issue and pretend it’s a big deal. It’s a tired schtick and we’re onto you.”
If that more or less describes your feelings toward this piece, I pity you. I pity your small worldview, the fact that you think problems are only worth discussing if they are trending on twitter.com. Keep your metaphorical earbuds in all you want. I take it it’s easier for you to live in denial than for you to admit you are complicit in a deeply broken system.
If, however, you are open-minded enough to admit that our campus is indeed plagued by an implicitly anti-earbud culture, I encourage you to make your voice heard and work to soften the hearts and minds of your more reactionary colleagues.