Headphones?

One in five teenagers in America can’t hear rustles or whispers

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May 18, 2017 – Online MCAT CARS Practice

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

One in five teenagers in America can’t hear rustles or whispers, according to a study published in August in The Journal of the American Medical Association. These teenagers exhibit what’s known as slight hearing loss, which means they often can’t make out consonants like T’s or K’s, or the plinking of raindrops. The word “talk” can sound like “aw.” The number of teenagers with hearing loss — from slight to severe — has jumped 33 percent since 1994.

Given the current ubiquity of personal media players — the iPod appeared almost a decade ago — many researchers attribute this widespread hearing loss to exposure to sound played loudly and regularly through headphones. (Earbuds, in particular, don’t cancel as much noise from outside as do headphones that rest on or around the ear, so earbud users typically listen at higher volume to drown out interference.) Indeed, the August report reinforces the findings of a 2008 European study of people who habitually blast MP3 players, including iPods and smartphones. According to that report, headphone users who listen to music at high volumes for more than an hour a day risk permanent hearing loss after five years.

Maybe the danger of digital culture to young people is not that they have hummingbird attention spans but that they are going deaf.

The history of headphones has always been one of unexpected uses and equally unexpected consequences. Headphones were invented more than a century ago. According to some accounts, modern headphones were the brainchild of Nathaniel Baldwin, a tinkerer from Utah who grew frustrated when he couldn’t hear Mormon sermons over the noise of the crowds at the vast Salt Lake Tabernacle. Baldwin’s device, which was designed first as an amplifier, came to incorporate two sound receivers connected by an operator’s headband. Within each earphone was, according to legend, a mile of coiled copper wiring and a mica diaphragm to register the wire’s signals with vibrations. When the Navy put in an order for 100 such Baldy Phones in 1910, Baldwin abandoned his kitchen workbench, hastily opened a factory and built the prosperous Baldwin Radio Company. His innovations were the basis of “sound powered” telephones, or phones that required no electricity, which were used during World War II.

It’s not incidental that Baldwin imagined headphones first as a way to block out crowd noise and hear sermons. Workers and soldiers have long used them to mute the din of machinery or artillery while receiving one-way orders from someone with a microphone. From the beginning, it seems, headphones have been a technology of submission (to commands) and denial (of commotion).

When World War II ended, submission-and-denial was exactly what returning veterans craved when they found themselves surrounded by the clamor and demands of the open-plan family rooms of the postwar suburbs. By then, they knew what device provided it. In the ’50s, John C. Koss invented a set of stereo headphones designed explicitly for personal music consumption. In that decade, according to Keir Keightley, a professor of media studies at the University of Western Ontario, middle-class men began shutting out their families with giant headphones and hi-fi equipment. Further, they recalled the sonar systems they saw at war.

The Walkman appeared in 1979, the invention of Sony, and headphones became part of a walking outfit. Headphones and earbuds are now used with MP3 players, mobile phones, tablet computers and laptops.

Most discussions of the transformation of music by digital technology focus on the production end. But headphones transform sound for the consumer too. Headphones are packed with technology. When an audio current passes through the device’s voice coil, it creates an alternating magnetic field that moves a stiff, light diaphragm. This produces sound. If you think about all the recordings, production tricks, conversions and compressions required to turn human voices and acoustic instruments into MP3 signals, and then add the coil-magnet-diaphragm magic in our headphones, it’s amazing that the intensely engineered frankensounds that hit our eardrums when we listen to iPhones are still called music.

Whatever you call it, children are listening to something on all these headphones — though “listening” is too limited a concept for all that headphones allow them to do. Indeed, the device seems to solve a real problem by simultaneously letting them have private auditory experiences and keeping shared spaces quiet. But the downside is plain, too: it’s antisocial. As Llewellyn Hinkes Jones put it not long ago in The Atlantic: “The shared experience of listening with others is not unlike the cultural rituals of communal eating. Music may not have the primal necessity of food, but it is something people commonly ingest together.”

Headphones work best for people who need or want to hear one sound story and no other; who don’t want to have to choose which sounds to listen to and which to ignore; and who don’t want their sounds overheard. Under these circumstances, headphones are extremely useful — and necessary for sound professionals, like intelligence and radio workers — but it’s a strange fact of our times that this rarefied experience of sound has become so common and widespread. In the name of living a sensory life, it’s worth letting sounds exist in their audio habitat more often, even if that means contending with interruptions and background sound.

Adapted from Nytimes.

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This was an article on Population Health.

Have a great day.
Jack Westin
MCAT CARS Instructor.
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33 Comments


  1. Headphones historically have been used to drown out noises. Today, this presents the opportunity for private space, but also creates a more antisocial generation.

    Reply

  2. Headphones = hearing loss, sound/music now personal yet antisocial

    Reply

  3. Author analyzed the pros/cons of headphone usage and the purposes of headphones in different times.

    Reply

  4. headphones : used to block out noises but this lead to antisocial+hearing loss

    Reply

  5. To inform the audience on the history of headphone production, while presenting the positive and negative effects of the device.

    Reply

  6. author explains the history of headphones .
    he agrees that it’s important in certain ways (submission snd denial) however authors main point is that headphone is antisocial and creating hearing problem.
    he also gives an example of music as an communal experience where we should value it

    Reply

  7. Although they are causing hearing loss in some teenagers, headphones have been developed for multiple uses over time.

    Reply

  8. MIP:teenagers bad at hearing
    headphones unexpected origin
    headphones=antisocial

    Reply

  9. Headphones= amazing tech + used for noise cancellation –> creates antisocial atmosphere

    Reply

  10. Advantages and disadvantages of headphones
    Adv: transform sounds + block noise
    Disadv: hearing loss + antisocial

    Reply

  11. History of headphones’ invention. +/- aspect of using headphones.

    Reply

  12. The authour discusses the history and development of headphones, and concludes that while there are benefits, there are also negative repercussions from their widespread use.

    Reply

  13. Headphones are an important technology that was initially developed a long time ago to help block outside noises in war, but has grown into its use for modern purposes such as listening to music which led to its unintended consequences with hearing loss and lack of socializing.

    Reply

  14. -first talked about loss of hearing due to headphones (earbuds) to cancel out music
    -invention of headphones (Utah -> WWII -> Walkman)
    -headphones used not just for accesory, but for post WWII vets and people to clear out background and be private
    -author does not like this, thinks background and interruptions should be heard

    Reply

  15. Headphones have provided a technological advancement that has caused hearing loss at an increasing rate, provided factory workers and veterans a means to escape from noise, and increased our ability to shut society out.

    Reply

  16. MI: Personal headphone usage should be limited due it’s various negative effects including hearing and reduced socialization.

    Reply

  17. Highlighting the history of what the headphones were created for followed by its implications in our society today.

    Reply

  18. The invention of headphones has deep historical roots in selective listening and enhanced listening experiences. While it may benefit the listener to hone in on sound exclusively from others, it comes with some repercussions including hearing problems and social inhibition in the modern context.

    Reply

  19. Headphones= hearing loss today
    Headphones used for controlling what to hear
    Headphones=antisocial

    Reply

    1. Headphones= Hearing loss
      Headphones= Cancel noise

      Reply

  20. MIP: headphones = +ve + =ve functions (antisocial)

    Reply

  21. Headphones can be attributed as being the cause of hearing loss seen in teens.
    Headphones were originally created to block out noise and amplify desired noises in important situations.
    The switch to personal use of headphones has contributed to the significant alteration of music and has led to an antisocial generation.
    Music should be listened to in its raw form, in a communal environment without trying to drown out other noises.

    Reply

  22. The author purports that headphones are a technology for shutting out stimulus. his argument falls in line with many critiques of the younger generation (“they’re always on phones” etc…), claiming that since headphones are made for shutting out background noise they cause social isolation. In general the author seems to have a negative view of the younger generation and is using headphones as a beating stick.

    Reply

  23. Younger generations are using headphones too much, and there can be health + social consequences with overuse. As with previous generations, headphones are used to block out noise, but this is taken to another level in their technology/media driven culture.

    Reply

  24. American teenagers are suffering hearing loss due to the widespread use of headphones and not because they are suffering from attention deficits in this age of digital culture
    Headphones are a technology that reflects the submission and denial culture, the former being prevalent at work while the latter ubiquitous in the home setting.
    Author finds it incredulous that our taste for music has changed as synthetic sounds become more popular
    Comparison is also drawn between the consumption of music and food with music being consumed by the masses albeit privately. Author finds it paradoxical that humans would prefer to cut off the interruptions (background noise) despite being sensory beings, analogous to people being reclusive when we are social in nature

    Reply

  25. mi: increase in hearing loss because of earphones/headphones

    Reply

  26. teenagers can’t hear, headphones = antisocial

    Reply

  27. MI: HP contrib to HL in teens=antisocial= has uses but used too much today
    tone= – for HP

    Reply

  28. MIP: hearing loss from headphones + history of headphones + optimal use = selectively block sounds and hear others; tone = neutral

    Reply

  29. Main purpose of headphones was to cancel out background noises. Author’s tone is neutral.

    Reply

  30. Headphones = widespread use these days -> hearing loss + long history (first used in WWII) then become personal, which may cause people to be antisocial

    Reply

  31. Headphones = 100 years; invented to block other noise, Media = 10 years. Since media loss of hearing is increasing. Headphones = best for blocking out noise and privacy + antisocial

    Reply

  32. MP: There are many cons of headphones (making us deaf and antisocial)

    Reply

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