Take the buds out, bud.

Why do they call them earbuds? Because if you have them on all the time, they will be the only buds you have left.

OK, maybe that’s not entirely true – but how likely are you to start a conversation with somebody that has earbuds in? Not very.

Don’t get me wrong – sometimes I put earbuds in simply because I don’t want anybody starting a conversation with me. That’s OK. You have the right to not be bothered or interrupted, especially in a time of deep thought or emotion. 

However, much like many other things in society, we tend to take things too far. Case in point, last weekend I went out to breakfast at a local pancake joint. It’s spring break in our tourist town so there was a big crowd waiting for a table. A family of four walked in to put their name on the list – with one of the two teenage sons heading up to the front desk to give their name. He had his earbuds in the entire time. He casually walked up to the desk and asked how long it was going to be. When the hostess replied, he said “Huh?” – clearly not hearing her because of his earbuds. She repeated the wait time to him as he whipped one of his earbuds out of his ear. Not both, just one. As if to say – “I only want to give you part of my attention, not all of it…. And I didn’t really want to give you that.”

I realize the world we live in is fast paced. Attention spans are dwindling, workplaces are requiring more from employees to compete with automated systems and outsourcing. Multitasking is a necessity. 

What we shouldn’t do – is multitask when it comes to human interaction. Each human we interact with is deserving of our attention. If it’s an employee at a restaurant, a spouse, a child or a stranger – they deserve the respect of not competing with an electronic device you have the ability to pause.

Recently, I did a little study of my own regarding earbuds and human interaction. As I walk the beach every day, typically I wear earbuds so I can jam out to my favorite tunes. Not a big deal. Or so I thought.

As I passed by fellow beach-walkers, I would wave or say hi – with my earbuds still in and cranking tunes. I started to notice that almost no one would reply. Not with a wave, not with a smile, not with a “hello” or “good morning.” 

Why? I was greeting them. Why not return the favor? 

Then I started to think about the times when I walk the beach without my earbuds. When I say hello, people say hi back. They ask how you’re doing as you pass by with a quick “Good morning, how are ya?” at the very least. So, I decided to compare. 

Over the past month I walked the beach 18 times. Each time I walked I would do the first half hour with earbuds in, and the second half hour without. 

With earbuds in over the course of 18 walks I passed 76 people. Of the 76 people, I waved or said hello to 63. Of those 63, 18 responded with a wave, a smile or a return greeting. None of which were more than a “Hey.” 

Without earbuds, over the course of 18 walks I passed 68 people. Of those 68 people I waved or said hello to all 68. Of those 68, I received responses from 59 of them. A few of them I ended up stopping to have full on conversations with. One made a comment on my sweatshirt of the St. Louis Cardinals. “Are you from St. Louis?” an older gentleman asked. We talked for 10 to 15 minutes about how he grew up in Florissant (a St. Louis suburb) and remembers going to Cardinals games with his dad. 

Another person I passed while I wasn’t wearing earbuds offered to show me a cool shell he found. This gentleman was visiting from Canada and was about 11 on a scale of 1-10 when it comes to being friendly. 

While I don’t know for sure if he would have showed me that shell or responded to my hello had I been wearing my earbuds, I know that my walks are a lot more fulfilling when I leave my earbuds out for a bit. 

You meet new people, share smiles with strangers and learn about people you may never have had a chance to. You find out how small this world is we live in, how kind most people can be and how the prospect of a good conversation with a stranger and the sound of waves can pump you up to exercise just as well as a Bruno Mars song.

My challenge to you:  Take the earbuds out. Whether you’re at the gym, walking the beach or taking a cross-country flight. Take them out and say hi to someone you wouldn’t. See what happens. Talk to the person sitting next to you on your long flight. Find a similarity you have. Did you grow up in the same town? Do your parents have the same name? Do you both love dogs? 

If none of the above inspired you enough to take them out – consider this:  when jogging, biking or walking along roads and sidewalks, some studies show you’re more likely to be hit by a vehicle, a bicycle or become a victim of a crime while wearing earbuds. 

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