The bright side of forgetting one’s headphones

I’m an audio geek.

I just love listening to things.

I’m talking listening to content – radio, podcasts, audiobooks, spoken word essays. When it comes to one-to-one human listening, I’m studying the art of active listening just now, which is a very different thing to the kind of listening most of us do on a daily basis.

Books have saved my life (honestly; I don’t feel I’m overstating that at all) and I’ve been won over by the Audible experience over the past two years, although I do have to have a pen and paper on hand for what I’m listening to to really stick, and I still much prefer the tangibility of real books.

I was always a radio lover, and have fond memories of late night and early morning radio with the soothing tunes and tones of one time RTE presenter Maxi.

In recent years, swayed by the endless choice and on demand quality offered by podcasts, I’ve moved more and more into the podcast listener experience, which in so many cases offers incredible production values and narrative verve, for free and whenever you want it.

So headphones have become an almost indispensable part of my clothing.

Phone, wallet, headphones.

When I run, I usually listen to podcasts on my headphones.

When I’m commuting to the city, I use my headphones on the way there and the way back (it can do a lot to ease the drudgery of hours spent crawling in city traffic jams).

I suspect I’m not alone in this headphone dependency. Almost everywhere I look, I see people plugged in, listening and watching their own radio and podcasts and audiobooks and TV series and Spotify playlists.

This morning, I forgot to bring my headphones. Left them on the cabinet inside the front door.

When I realised, five minutes down the road and rushing for a bus that is always on time, I experienced a moment of panic, knowing that I faced approximately four hours on buses today, and would not have the default option of headphones available to me.

As I write this, I’ve navigated the first 90 minute bus journey without headphones in maybe two years.

Here’s what’s happened so far.

  • I’ve been able to focus on reading my book without the compelling distraction of selecting from the infinitude of sounds available from my mobile device.
  • I experienced the serendipity of hearing a song I loved, playing at low, just-about-audible volume on the bus stereo.
  • I overheard some conversation at the little coffee place where I occasionally stop for an early morning bowl of porridge.

I heard the sounds of the world again.

Sounds that I’ve routinely been drowning out with my headphones.

Forgetting my headphones caused me a few moments of panic earlier, and I know that as this day progresses I will instinctively reach for them on a few occasions.

But I also know that I might notice things I would otherwise have missed.

And I know that being present to the world is to also be present to all the sights and sounds and tedium and wonder of it all.

And I decided to be grateful for the opportunity for new experiences provided by the simple, absent-minded act of forgetting one’s headphones.