I Hate Your Music

And your YouTube video and your phone conversation and your . . .

Paul Greenberg

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Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

What is the logic that led you to believe that I wanted to listen to your iPhone? Did you lose your airpods? Don’t you have a pair of headphones? Actually, I think you do. But, for some reason, I think you believe that you have a right to my sonic space.

This is not the first time you have tried to take my silence away from me. Back in the 70s when the boom box came along, you thought it was ok to play it at ear-splitting volume on the subway, in the park, at the beach, wherever I might be enjoying not listening to your soundtrack.

But then there was a blessed, little pause. First the Walkman, then the iPod presented the idea that it might be cool to keep your sounds to yourself. And, for a little while, public space was truly public because silence belonged to everyone. Your sounds were your business, not mine. I didn’t mind if you occasionally sang along with the soundtrack I couldn’t hear. You were just being enthusiastic. And I applaud enthusiasm whenever it is truly heartfelt and a private matter between you and your unheard music.

Now, however, the covenant between public silence and private thought has been broken. I’m not sure when you first decided this was ok. Maybe it started with the cellphone itself. Maybe the idea that you could legitimately have a phone conversation on the street pierced the sound barrier. When I didn’t object to your discussing your marriage, the Yankees, or your choice of yoga pants at full volume I think you might have construed this meant that other barriers could be breached. “If I can tell Louise that my pedicure was not exactly what I was looking for,” you thought, “why can’t I watch a rerun of the season 3 finale of How I Met Your Mother without the cumbersome inconvenience of headphones?” When I didn’t object, you moved on to your Instagram feed and thought, “Who could possibly mind the jarring audio leaps from insta story to insta story as I scroll? I think it’s funny. He probably will too.”

That the sonic balance has shifted in your favor is immediately apparent whenever I ask you to turn down your audio. When I politely propose a volume check you look at me as if I’m the one violating your rights. And God forbid it’s your offspring’s audio I ask you to moderate. He’s a child for Chrissake! you seem to be saying when you glare at me and grudgingly turn down Blue’s Clues a single bar of volume.

But I will persist. My right to silence is as legitimate as your right to noise. Speech is still silver. Silence is still golden.

And ending someone else’s noise?

That’s platinum, baby.

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org