Listening fatigue

Off the Beat

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I used to listen to music anytime I found myself alone. Studying, commuting or even when lying down in bed, silence became almost nonexistent. But when I got AirPods, a moment without music merely became impossible. The absent wire made walking around and doing things hands-on easier.

I became needy for it; when I forgot to take my earbuds to class or work in the morning, it ruined my whole day. And even though I kind of knew that it was detrimental to my hearing and possibly made me more vulnerable to getting mugged on the street, I still found it necessary to block out the world on a day-to-day basis.

My music purge began when I lost my AirPods. It’s a privilege to have such an item, and lo and behold, I took it for granted. Guilt and dismay consumed me. I proceeded to get a regular pair of earbuds with the wire, as well as a lightning adapter, to make up for my costly irresponsibility. Then, again with my reckless behavior, I lost the adapter. At this rate, I gave up on buying more listening devices and settled on only listening from my laptop. It gets quite expensive for my sad college wallet. Therefore, it was time to say goodbye to those jazzy morning commutes on the bus.

At first, it was fine. My ears needed to heal from the months of abuse from putting the volume on high anyway. Also, it was getting harder and taking longer each week to find more music to satiate my need for a “mood.” So I thought that taking a break from music, at least only listening to it when I was on my computer, couldn’t be so bad.

But as the days went on, I found it harder to deal without music. I found my thinking processes interrupted by the smallest noises. People say that it’s good to take a step back and notice the little things in life, but it felt like I started to notice every little thing that annoyed me. I’m talking about people complaining about life on the bus, people on their phones right next to me in line, cars, police, firetrucks, etc.

I felt sadder, too. Without something to paint those tired-stricken mornings and lowly afternoons in an uplifting way, so many aspects of my day felt duller. I needed something to vibe with; I needed background noise of my choosing to help me get through the day. 

Then things started to take a turn. After about two weeks, I started to get the hang of the sounds. They didn’t bother me anymore, as they all just started to blend into the background like a buzz. 

And those conversations on the bus? I became interested in the sort of things people were talking about. I would hear gossip, grief and gratification from strangers and got a glimpse into another person’s life for only a few stops.

In a way, I started to feel more connected to the world around me — the world that I tried to take myself out of through music. The footsteps on the pavement, milk steaming at a café, the laughter of children outside my window and even the trees shuffling in the breeze. I started to notice the beauty of my surroundings, of Berkeley. I learned to love the sound of people walking on the street, “HELL YEAHs” and Annapurna’s blaring speakers every time I passed the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Dwight Way. These sounds only exist for a limited amount of time in this world, and I get to be part of this small moment in history. 

The same thing happened with silence. When I thought that I needed the right song to capture the right feelings for me to think deeper, silence actually gave me more space and mental capacity to think. I found myself being more creative, and my creativity was sustained for longer periods of time. 

I also started to develop the appreciation I once had for music. But after testing this so-called purge, melodies and lyrics felt fresh, genres came alive and jingles began to sparkle once again.

Throughout this whole music purge, I began to realize that the reason why I listened to music so often was because I depended on it so heavily to control my emotions, my moods. I depended on it to give me feelings during an unfeeling daily routine. I relied on it as a constant to keep my sentiments at an equilibrium.

Months after losing my AirPods and only listening through my laptop, the little floss-shaped container appeared in a bag. I completely forgot that I threw it in the closet last summer. Although celebratory cheers rang inside my head, the next day, I kept the AirPods in my bag. I still love listening to music, dancing to it and having it lift my mood, and I’m glad I get to do that again because of my newfound appreciation for music. But I’ve started to see more of the need to listen to my environment, since there are only a few more months until I graduate, and I’d rather not forfeit these last few moments when I get to experience UC Berkeley, and its surrounding community, in its entirety.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.