FEATURE: Comfort in An Age of Anxiety: How Portable Music/Audio Is Less About Blocking Out People and More About Silencing the Noise




Comfort in An Age of Anxiety

PHOTO CREDIT: @thefakebhogra/Unsplash 

How Portable Music/Audio Is Less About Blocking Out People and More About Silencing the Noise


ON 1st July…



the Sony Walkman turns forty and it is a great excuse to celebrate a breakthrough in music. Before then, music was not portable and one could not take their sounds around with them. People could carry stereos and devices but they were largely cumbersome and not especially slimline. To be fair, that way of life was great when it came to sharing music and taking it into neighbourhoods. Away from the radio and restrictive playlists, people could bring their own music with them and share it with others. It sounds pretty idyllic and not something we really see too much of these days. The Sony Walkman was a revolution: it opened up a new world and meant that people could walk around with their cassettes and not have to bother about disturbing people. One could listen to music on the move and enjoy all their favourite artists without lugging around something heavy. After 1979, technology companies were keen to take the Walkman to new heights. Various other versions were released and, before long, the C.D. version came about: the brilliant-yet-flawed DiscMan. It was a device that made it possible to listen to C.D.s on the go and, years later, technology took its next steps. The Walkman did not survive the turn of the century and, when C.D.s and cassettes started to decline, there was this move into digital music. Through the years, we have seen this switch from portable music that one could take anywhere to, well, the modern-day version of that. One can take a library of music around with them and shut out the world.

There are people that miss the older days…where you would have a boom-box or stereo and could play it to friends. I am old enough to remember those days but I was mesmerised by a device I could carry around with me and immerse myself in music. People say that we have come to the point where we are blocking out the world and not really focused on others. That debate as to whether people are blocking out the world or escaping noise has its representatives. I do like the fact that music is readily available and we can stream it on our phones. To be fair, I prefer portable devices and bespoke equipment rather than Smartphones. I love the older players where you could listen to music and not be distracted by visuals and have to block out people. I think people need to differentiate between technology that is distracting the eyes and attention and that which allows us to relax and feel comforted. I do agree that Smartphones, for the most part, are irrelevant and needless. We use them for various reasons but we can do without them. One walks down the streets and is greeted with a line of people all staring down at their phones and not looking where they are going. Not only is this practice rude and dangerous but it is completely needless. There is nothing people need to do when walking down the street other than the actual business of walking.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @le_buzz/Unsplash

I grew up seeing technology change and evolve but, at no point was there this lack of communication and sense of isolation. Nobody, anywhere needs to check emails, text others and play any games or look at the Internet! We are finding ways of avoiding eye contact and humans; unable to simply walk the street without grabbing our phones and avoiding the world – I never take my phone out and, instead, I only use it briefly and for the odd text and call. The likes of the Walkman never saw a future like we have now. Instead, it was only about music and the ability to be free and unleashed. One cannot link the Walkman to the sort of hell we have now: where eyes are always down and very few people can exist without constant staring at screens and texting. We need to differentiate between the Smartphone and useless distractions and what the likes of the Walkman has led to: a world where we can take endless music with us and actually block out the noise of the world. People that stare at their phones and do not look where they are going are avoiding the world and not concerned with the people around them. Those who have headphones on or earphones in – when listening to music – are silencing the noise around them. One can say that, with music and sound in their ears, people are unable to converse with others and help others out.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @sonance/Unsplash

If someone asks for directions or wants to strike up a conversation, can someone who is listening to music hear them? I do agree that, in towns and villages, that is more of a problem. If you take a big city like London, you do see a lot of people listening to music on the Tube and walking down the streets. In most cases, people are still looking around them and are not blocking out the world – the same way as people do when on their phones and not concerned with what is around them. I see people conversing in London and these interactions taking place but, with so many people around and there being a load of noise about us, we all need that sense of privacy and relief. If someone were listening to music and did not want any contact with others then that would be a different matter. The best thing about portable music and sounds is the fact we can feel inspired and energised; we can have anything from audiobooks, podcasts and radio in our ears and still be aware of the world around us. I see people listening to all manner of things and they can see other people; they can take their earphones out if someone approaches and they can balance interaction with escape. Forty years (almost) after the Sony Walkman revolutionised things, I still think its best aspects are present today.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @hyingchou/Unsplash

Maybe technology has moved music from the physical to the digital but where would we be without it? If we all had to sit at home and were unable to take music/sounds around with us, it would be restrictive and limiting. The freedom that we were given in 1979 exists today but the problem exists with the argument of ignorance/rudeness and escapism. If you, like me, live in a noisy and stressful city such as London, it can be very unnerving and anxiety-making. From the spate of ill people spreading germs (loudly) to the roar of traffic and the clamber of voices in the crowd…everyday life can be very distressing and tiring. I do admit that we need to be aware of people around us and actually be part of the world and, when you see people gawking at screens and not looking up, it is hard to achieve that. Even in a digital age, one need not stare at their phones and always be distracted – you can play an album through and select songs without glancing down too much. There is no way of bringing music into the modern age without putting it onto phones and into our ears – unless you want to annoy everyone around you. Not only can one listen to the radio or anything they want wherever they want but, indeed, they can rid themselves or distractions. People that say we are becoming less connected as a society and have lost the human touch are referring to, I would imagine, the stare-at-the-screen culture: those who are listening to music as they go fall in a different camp.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @antonio_dicaterina/Unsplash

The problem with trying to connect and interact with the masses of people around is that, more and more, there are more and more people in the world. People who feel we all need to be open to conversation need to differentiate between the crowded cities and how stressful that can be and less populous regions that allows one a sense of space and movement. Even those who are dedicated to sound and seem to shy away from human connection are not always slaves to muting the world – I do think there is a lot of misunderstanding. It is great having your ears and eyes open to roam and see the world, but one cannot ignore the size and busyness of things. So many people feel anxious and stressed walking the streets and travelling; having to listen to humans at their least considerate and negotiating with all the weird sound and effects that can be bamboozling, tiring and confusing. It is key that we are conscious of sounds we need to hear – people asking us for help and instructions – but there are myriad noises that can get into the brain and cause a lot of damage. More and more of us are suffering depression and anxiety and one wonders if it is possible to travel around and avoid that when you are not kept busy with music and sounds. I do feel like moments of quiet and calm does not require endless music and sound but look at the effects of modern life when it is shoved in our faces all of the time.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @stage7photography/Unsplash

Portable music and sounds can never completely cure and evaporate anxiety - but it does help an awful lot. I know a lot of people that run after work and they often take music with them. That was one of the things with the Walkman: it helped popularise aerobics and meant that people were more active because they could take music out with them. This same quality remains today and, if we can get more people out and about, that is a good thing. Being able to blow off steam after a long day is terrific and, if you are bringing music and sound around with you, that can provide release and inspiration. There is this ideal that you can take a walk or run and things are peaceful and calm – that is not always the way and, really, the distractions and noise can be unsettling! Making sound portable means that we can become more well-rounded and educated. Maybe someone is not a big reader but they can have an audiobook in their ears. Someone can erase the squall and slam of modern life without having to be too anxious and tired. Anything that can make modern life more bearable and tolerable is good in my books. We can listen to news on the move and we can also listen to the radio. I think this is very important. If we still lived in a time when radio/music was a less isolated and personal thing, it would cause ruction and offend people.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @thoughtcatalog/Unsplash

Now, we can stay informed and delighted all of the time and, at the same time, we are able to look at people and are not completely closed away. I still prefer people carrying books around with them but if you can have everything on one device, it seems more economical and less awkward. Personally, I do think the mere act of commuting and walking around can be very tough. There is a lot of noise around and the effect this can have over time is daunting. If one can take some of that ache away and learn something as they do, who are we to judge? Just listening to music as you walk about can inspire more curiosity and adventure; promote physical exercise and also make us want to go out more – rather than being kept inside and ignoring all people. On 1st July, we mark forty years of the Walkman and the way it transformed lives. I agree that the Smartphones we have now have made it easy to block out the world and spend insane amounts of time being distracted and mindlessly wasting time. The ability to still be aware of the world around us and having a way of muting the worst aspects of cities and busy communities – the traffic, noise pollution and irritations – can improve mental-health and make it much easier to cope. Everyone will have their own opinions but, from those who listen to music whilst running to the commuter who can experience a documentary without disturbing someone else, there are advantages to the rise in technology and what it can allow us. Freedom and choice is not the same as rudeness and isolation. If one chooses to listen to music/audio and ignore humans then we cannot blame technology companies – it is very much the responsibility of the individual. The experiences, joys; the possibilities and relief that portable music/audio has given us has helped enrich and improve…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @juja_han/Unsplash

SO many lives.