Bjork sang, “My headphones, they saved my life.” But have you thought much about how  *your* headphones are blocking out the city, and people, around you? It’s as though I’m in the city, but I might as well be In My Room, as The Beach Boys sang.

Yesterday, The Atlantic Cities wrote about smartphones as a threat to public space. The article claimed that smartphone users make public spaces “private” by wandered through the city with eyes and ears tethered to their mobile devices. People burrow into their own private worlds, using their smartphones and headphones to block out the city (and yes, I’m also guilty of this).

This has arguably been true for some time, at least in terms audio distractions. What might be newer is the more immersive experience offered by smartphones, in contrast to just music or reading a book. It’s far too easy to get sucked into a technology loop, even on the go — checking social networks, RSS feeds, Flipboard, Angry Birds, or whatever other apps you’ve got stacked on your phone.

This recent Missed Connections post articulates this problem succinctly: people aren’t interacting in public spaces, to the detriment of potential romantic interaction.

I wonder to what extent this is just a phenomenon in Toronto – the article on public space suggests it might be more widespread. In this city, though, you could make the case that the headphone “problem” – if we view an added barrier to interactions as a problem – is endemic.

As much as I love listening to music as I traipse through the city, it might be time we consider removing the headphones on occasion. It’s apparent from these posts that at least some of the time, someone might be trying to get your attention, while your ears and attention are elsewhere.

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