On the 23rd of October 2020 at 10:34am, I bought AirPods, and my life changed forever.
Perhaps I was seduced by the idea of owning something wholly unnecessary when my phone had its own pluggable counterpart. Maybe it was the element of danger: as a loser of valuables, this felt like a toxic relationship waiting to happen and I was ready to embrace it with open ears.
In that first week, I slept with them on my bedside table, flinging my arm out at the crack of dawn to give them a gentle pat. “WHO MOVED MY AIRPODSSSSS?” became a daily mantra, sung shrilly to amuse and infuriate my housemates. I discovered new depths to my affection, akin – I presume – to what parents feel for a first born or at the very least, a new puppy. My morning walks took on super sonic dimensions; a few friendships were put on pause due to my inability to speak about anything else and I once fell asleep with them in, giving me an earache that lasted days.
My lowest point was the time I replaced the words to Bonnie and Clyde with: “All I need in this life of sin, is me and my AirPods” (no one @ me, this was a painful reveal) and it got to a stage where I couldn’t leave the house without them. When they made the bleep bloop noise right before they died, I was filled with irrational fear – somewhere between a jolt to the stomach and the rising panic you feel when your arm goes dead in the middle of the night and as you pick it up with your other arm, you know in the depths of your soul that it is going to fall off.
The more I tuned out, the more muddled my mind became until it felt like I hadn’t had an original thought in weeks. London’s second, mid-winter Lockdown was rapidly approaching, and with my housemates heading out of town, I was terrified at the prospect of living by myself and the unravelling that would surely ensue.
As with all vices, my AirPod usage was a sign of something deeper – a prolonging of the inevitable moment I would be left to explore the crevices of my mind. What would I find there? And how long before I let cruel thoughts swallow the kind words I reserved for everyone but myself?
My housemates left and silence filled the air. I sat cross legged on the couch and tried an internal rendition of Hello Darkness My Old Friend, but for some reason, the sadness wouldn’t stick. I reached for my AirPods to play something morbid and paused. It appeared I had come to a crossroads on my AirPod journey: a realisation that they lose a significant amount of their appeal when you live alone, for one of the greatest AirPod-related pleasures in life beyond a hands-free existence, is pointing to your ears as a housemate tries to speak to you and pretending you can’t hear them*.
*AirPod users take note: this is important, as it serves to remind loved ones that you are not a deluded victim of capitalism, but merely an individual of superior taste with a penchant for very hip tech.
Without my go-to crutches, and with a lot more time to think, I realised the stark silence I’d been fearing had made way for a much-needed stillness. Monday to Thursday breezed by with no human contact; I read my book for the first time in months (two pages but still counts); I rediscovered birdsong on the balcony and sat softly in the sunrise, watching the world around me turn pink. I had stuffed my days so full of distractions, so desperately trying to avoid what came next, it was no wonder life had felt like it was splitting at the seams.
Whether it’s 5 minutes or 5 hours, time spent alone is like photosynthesis for humans: you allow thoughts to filter in – on yourself, on life, on why you’re the only person on the planet who doesn’t own a BitCoin – and you channel these to the respective departments, in the hope that you might affect some sort of change.
Over a period of such global disconnect, when we’ve been kept apart from the people we love or forced into stints of isolation that take a toll on our mental health, to spend even more time by ourselves can seem unbearable because we’ve done so much of it already. But it’s how we set aside these seconds that counts.
I still love my AirPods as much as the morning I bought them, but they’re no longer a vehicle for drowning the world out. I use them more sparingly now: to listen to a song I’ve waited all day to play, to hear the voice of a friend I haven’t seen in months, as some take-it-or-leave-it light relief – the icing on top of happier days.