headphones earbuds
These are the earbuds by Billboard currently available aboard flights operated by Delta Air Lines. Note the soft tips to be inserted into your ears. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Not Using Headphones In Public Places: Rude or Reasonable?

Now hear this...

People seem to be increasingly using their portable electronic devices to be informed or entertained at increased volumes in public places — such as airports, restaurants, the lobbies of hotel properties, and even aboard airplanes as four of countless examples — while simultaneously not using headphones to keep the audio to themselves.

Not Using Headphones In Public Places: Rude or Reasonable?

Audio Technica bulky noise canceling headphones
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

The University of Tennessee Volunteers won the Capitol One Orange Bowl against the Clemson University Tigers on Friday, December 30, 2022 by a score of 31 to 14 — but during the game prior to its conclusion, a man was in a public area listening to his portable electronic device, with the volume at a very loud setting. Even his female companion seemed disinterested in the game.

Passengers aboard airplanes and at gates in airports also seem to not know that a nifty device called headphones was invented decades ago, as they tend to listen to just about anything from sports to music to their favorite movies to what some may consider utter nonsense — and unapologetically at volumes which are considered to be louder than acceptable.

In response to a reader who asked for advice about how to handle this type of situation, “Certainly this is rude”, opined Judith Martin, who is otherwise more popularly known as Miss Manners. “Bristle as this young man might, you did nothing wrong by politely and reasonably asking him to use headphones in a public place. In fact, Miss Manners assures you, you likely saved him from a ruder patron’s much more indignant objections.”

Final Boarding Call

Gulf Air headphones
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I seem to attract people who smoke cigarettes and people who do not use headphones. We could be the only people in an airport or outside of an airport and they will congregate next to me for some reason.

I wonder if this phenomenon in recent years correlates with when Apple decided to eliminate the 35 millimeter headphone jack from their iPhone 7 devices back in 2017. The headphones — or earbuds — which were given out aboard airplanes by members of the flight crew would fit in those headphone jacks.

Some people may compare this to the use of portable electronic devices for telephone calls while using the speaker — and without using headphones. I would agree. Not only do I not want to hear the conversation of someone else — not even of anyone I personally know — but I prefer that no one listens in on my conversations as well, as I use headphones.

Unless a medical condition is the reason, no one should play their portable electronic device without headphones, as that is simply rude, selfish, and inconsiderate to other people within earshot, in my opinion.

I do not believe legislation by a government entity is the answer, as I believe that the government in general is already too bloated with too many laws. Rather, at least two easy solutions can be implemented:

  • Politely ask the person to either lower the volume to an acceptable level or to use headphones. The offending person will usually comply.
  • Bring your own set of headphones or some other covering for the ears which will help to reduce noise or block it out completely.

I also never thought I would quote Miss Manners in an article, but here we are…

All photographs ©2014, ©2015, and ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

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