If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? Not if anyone is nearby while blasting their psych-up playlist.
The sounds that surround increasingly are being drowned out as phones and headphones come free of wires and plugs. This is not news to urban commuters, who have been living among the tuned-out headphoners for years. What Sony, Promethean-like, bestowed upon us 40 years ago in its Walkman has evolved into a world moving to personalized soundtracks that mask the reality going on around them.
For most of those 40 years, headphones were tethered to our sonic sources. “Cord cutting,” once for those who were ending costly subscriptions to cable TV, now pairs neatly — over Bluetooth — with headphones. Bose, Apple and, soon, Amazon will provide you aural splendor AND freedom of movement — starting at $129.
Watch most any professional athlete warming up before the big game these days. They are all sporting their preferred wireless headphones, often while the stadiums around them are blaring out their own pre-game pump-up jams. These athletes walk through tunnels, around the fields and sidelines completely tuned out to all but the voices closest to their ears. Has life gotten so stressful for the manicured millionaires that even the shouted hosannas of their adulating fans isn’t music enough to their ears?
Sadly, this is not just limited to the stadium bowls and arenas. You can find the tuned-out all around us. I’ve taken lately to walking laps around the Southern Pines Reservoir. You get into nature pretty quickly on any path you take, and if you pay attention to what’s around you, you can spy the turtles coming up for little gulps of air, or see the beautiful lily flowers that bloom toward shore. You can hear bountiful bird song, and if no one is near you on the trail you might hear the rustle of underbrush as a rabbit, squirrel or chipmunk skitters by. And if nothing else, you get into the rhythm of your breath and feet beating upon the path.
With ear pods securely stuck in your ears, however, you hear none of what’s around you, defeating half of the purpose of exercising in the wilderness vs. a gym.
And even if you’re walking through a neighborhood or city street, is it too hard to stomach the sounds of children playing? Oncoming traffic? A siren approaching from behind, or a car slowing to turn at the same intersection you’re about to cross?
But I’ve run into a few instances lately where lack of headphones has been no deterrent for those enjoying an otherwise perfectly good nature walk.
Back in July, while hiking through Chimney Rock State Park, I was well into a trail when a small clutch of hikers came toward me. As they neared, I began hearing country music, though thankfully not banjos. Sure enough, as they passed, a guy walking by in the group carried a phone playing music at a volume sufficient to warn any critter within 100 yards to take cover. So much for nature.
Last week, while hiking around the reservoir, a walker approaching from the other direction was pumping out the jams. Again, it didn’t matter that she had either left the headphones back at the car or had none to begin with. For that moment, the trails were alive with the sound of Kanye West.
Not five minutes later, a dad jogging behind a double stroller rolled by with impressive stereo sound built in to the all-terrain toddler mobile. The children strapped into their seats were getting an early lesson, I reckon, that nature offers little worth hearing of its own.
As we have continued to exert dominion over all the Earth, it’s now as though we are also taping over its soundtrack, as though we have no need to be aware and hear what it has to say to us.
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness,” Mother Teresa once said. “God is the friend of silence. See how nature — trees, flowers, grass — grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence ... We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Contact editor John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.