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Headphones Changed How We Listen

Time was, if you wanted to hear music, you went a big auditorium and sat with a hundred or more other people to watch an orchestra or a band perform. Then record players and radios were developed so you could sit in your living room and listen to music, along with your family.

Music then was a essentially a communal occasion, but today you can have a whole orchestra or rock band perform, or an entire movie soundtrack without having to watch the movie.

Music has become “personal”. You don’t have to “Whistle While You Work” – just plug that earphone into your ear and groove while your co-workers do the same.

Science, as usually, sees the whole phenomenon as a dire threat to humanity , ”Listening to music hurts our ability to recall other stimuli”, and “pop songs — loud or soft — reduces overall performance for extraverts and introverts. A Taiwanese study linked music lyrics to lower tests scores and less concentration in college students.

Other research shown music lyrics scrambles our brain’s “verbal-processing skills”, and listening to music hurts our ability to recall other stimuli, a Taiwanese study linked music lyrics to lower scores on concentration tests and have shown “music with words” scrambles our brains verbal-processing skills. But if headphones are so bad for productivity, why do so many people at work us them?

It appears, at least, that headphones increase concentration and productivity without interfering with another worker’s tasks. The United States is less a “ farming and manufacturing” economy but a “service economy”, and these jobs “demand higher levels of concentration, reflection and creativity.” Today’s workplace is likely to have more open space, lower barriers and more shared spaces. When density increases, speech distractions increase. Personal earphones appear to help solve that problem.