The Headphone Morass
Updated: Jul 27, 2019
Each day in preparation for my walk, I dig my earbuds out of the little pocket in my backpack and shake off the pens, my ID badge clip, the loose change. Each day, I untangle the cords, getting the headphone morass ready to stick into my ears. Some days, it takes a few seconds, the lie of the strands just right to unravel with the slightest shake of my wrist. Some days, it takes me a minute or more, a marvel of tangles and knots which were not there when I carefully wrapped the cords around my fingers the day before. Lately, of course, I have noticed more and more folks wearing the new Apple cordless earpods, their little antennas hanging down like futuristic jewelry. Everyone wearing these seems generally happier than me, more in control of their lives, proud of their minimalistic efficiency. They are chatting with their friends, listening to great tunes, and broadening their mind with a snappy new podcast, all without the wires snaking down their cheeks and flopping back and forth. These folks have put the days of untangling behind them. They are the future. My buddy, Greg, a musicophile, has a pair, and he showed them to me, delight and wonder on his face as he demonstrated how the carrying case doubles as a charger—each headphone living in its own little form-fitting bed . . . and the sound quality, he exclaimed! I look up how much they cost and find the price slightly disturbing. Less than a wedding ring, but just as easy to lose. My ambivalence grows. I don't care too much about sound quality, but I do hate the untangling of the cords. I imagine my new life with cord-free walks around the neighborhood. I imagine all the things I can do with my hands with no wires to de-snag from branches or my belt buckle. It seems like a wonderful life. And yet, something holds me back. Nostalgia? Not exactly. After all, I plug them into an iPhone, not the Walkman of my childhood. The ritual? Do I get some small satisfaction when I successfully detangle them each day? I don't think so. What then? Why not upgrade? Am I worried that if I get the wireless kind now, then soon I will no longer even appreciate them? Maybe by waiting, I will always have that expansive cordless future ahead of me? Maybe I get more satisfaction knowing I can have the thing I wish for without actually having it. Maybe when it comes to the headphone morass, I am addicted to delayed gratification. Yet all this feels too deep for the nature of the problem. Some ambivalences are truly bone deep—this one just feels plain stupid. For now, I decide to stick with the corded earbuds that I know and hate because I just don't care enough to upgrade them. It's not a big enough problem to fix. And plus, I can always dream about the person I will someday become in my cordless future, and sometimes just knowing that better self is out there waiting is the best thing of all.