Alone together: What the history of headphones has in common with handheld videogames.

If you think about it, it’s strange that we should individually own games. No one can own a game of tag or soccer. But a game of Mario or Pokémon can be yours through the generations. The strange sense of privately owning of a thing that was once shared as a function of community togetherness has been accelerated in music by the development of headphones. 

Writing for The Atlantic, Derek Thompson enumerates the history of headphones and their contribution to music’s commodification. 

The United States has moved from a farming/manufacturing economy to a service economy, and more jobs“demand higher levels of concentration, reflection and creativity.” This leads to a logistical answer: With 70 percent of office workers in cubicles or open work spaces, it’s more important to create one’s own cocoon of sound. That brings us to a psychological answer: There is evidence that music relaxes our muscles, improves our mood, and can even moderately reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. What music steals in acute concentration, it returns to us in the form of good vibes.

Originally developed for the Navy, headphones quickly spread as people realized they could be used as a way to isolate themselves. 

Personal music creates a shield both for listeners and for those walking around us. Headphones make their own rules of etiquette. We assume that people wearing them are busy or oblivious, so now people wear them to appear busy or oblivious — even without music. Wearing soundless headphones is now a common solution to productivity blocks. Baldwin’s invention for the Navy has become a social accessory with a explicit message: I am here, but I am separate. In a wreck of people and activity, two plastic pieces connected by a wire create an aura of privacy.

Do the implements of private videogame ownership have the same effect, allowing us to drift away from one another inside iPhone and 3DS cocoon worlds on the bus and subway?

[via The Atlantic] [img]