I can still remember the first Sony Walkman head phones and how it felt when the metal frame slipped out and rubbed against my temples. I didn’t care, it still felt like magic. The Police had come out with their last studio album and we had it on cassette: Synchronicity. With a second-hand trench coat and my dad’s Walkman I took to the streets to brood. I smoked and walked in the rain. I climbed hills above the south side of Bethlehem to reflect on a dying industry, the empty steel mills. Around Christmas they lit a star at the top of the hill (“the star of Bethlehem”), and I’d walk to the base of it and turn around. I was 16 and my girlfriend had just broken up with me. And I’d just finished reading Catcher in the Rye.
And I can remember now when I first saw someone wearing air pods, he only had one in and I thought it was a cigarette and looked dumb. I had to stop wearing ear buds myself since the tinnitus. I’d gotten in the habit of wearing them on early morning conditioning hikes but went too hard with it, playing the music too loud. One day I walked into our closet and the high-pitched squealing started in my left ear like a tea kettle. The audiologist asked if I’d ever fired guns without ear protection and I went back to that time I house sat, I had access to my step-dad’s guns. That night for whatever reason I was upset and went off into the woods and fired a few rounds into the darkness: that was the time.
I just got a pair of air pods so I can take calls when I’m driving the kids or out and about. And you really can toggle between people on the phone and those in your physical space no problem. I wore them hiking for the first time and the music was perfect, a soundtrack for an early morning walk through the woods, late November. It was better than the bird song even, better than nature. The look of the ferns with the morning light coming through, how the moss hung on the branches, how the branches looked like broken arms at odd angles, how some of the trees leaned against each other. The section of trail where I’d sometimes hear an owl hooting…but this morning I didn’t care. I felt removed.
Charlotte showed me how I can double tap one of the air pods to advance the song and I did, and felt like a cyborg, like Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner scanning the landscape, accessing feeds through my helmet. I could seal myself off from the real world the same as I did as a teenager with my walkman. And we could be with people virtually and physically at the same time, people anywhere in the world. It really had a supernatural feel to it, better than nature. I could split myself across multiple platforms and splay them out like playing cards, like offerings. And I had to laugh and wonder, how much does technology amplify or compromise our true nature? And when we remove ourselves like this, where do we actually go?