Noise cancelling headphones have changed my life for the better and at this juncture, there’s no turning back. However, when I was first introduced to them, I thought they were outrageously priced, not worth the investment, and that they, quite frankly, looked very strange. I even tried on a pair to try to better understand what their benefit was and why anyone would want to invest in them. Even after that, I wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t until I borrowed a pair to use on a cross-country, red-eye flight that I realized their utility. By being able to eliminate a majority of the noise around me on the plane (the engine, nearby conversations, loud children, the loudspeaker), I was able to sleep more deeply and I was also less distracted by the commotion around me. As a result, my red-eye flight was no longer a completely draining experience. I was actually able to enjoy my flight and once I landed, I felt more awake and I was more productive.
The efficacy of these headphones changed the way that I view products that I may not initially understand. For example, if someone had presented me with a cargo cult mock-up of noise cancelling headphones, I would not have understood their utility nor would I have ever thought about buying them. By showing me a representation of the headphones, I would not have been able to understand what kind of noise they eliminate and to what extent. What’s more, because I had no prior knowledge of the power of noise cancelling headphones, I would have doubted their ability to function in the way they promised. In my case, I had to actually experience them in order to fully understand their functionality.
Headphones are ubiquitous in modern day culture. Whether they’re Apple’s signature in-ear white buds, Beats by Dre’s over-ear noise cancelling headphones, or on-ear types, we see them everywhere we go. The fact that I’m able to describe a large variety of headphones indicates that philosopher Jean Baudrillard was right. This product, like many others, has a “sign value” (Blauvelt, 16) and was largely impacted by growth and changes to the design field. These products are no longer used just for listening to music or to mute airplane engines; They also indicate status, brand loyalty, or not wanting to be disturbed.
As our world continues to grow and change, I believe that proper design will play a critical role in improving how we communicate with others and interact with our world. As Andrew Blauvelt said, “Without this ability to integrate objects into our environment, the world would seem a daunting place – an ever-changing visual cacophony” (Blauvelt, 15).