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Are Millennials Doomed to Wear Ear Buds Forever?

Office Cubicles

Apparently Millennials are working in three types of offices now. None of
them serves the career goals of Millennials, or those who sit among them.
One type of office is a giant open bin where everyone up to and including
the CEO sits around tables, with ear buds inserted to drown out the noise
from the crowd.

The second type of office is filled with cubicles where most everyone,
except a few senior managers, share semi-walled spaces and still need ear
buds inserted to drown out the noise from the crowd around them.

Finally, the third type of office is so quiet, people wear ear buds and try
to drown out their loneliness with a playlist. It¹s quiet and lonely because
these individuals are working from home in almost total isolation.

When did ear buds become the answer to all our problems? Right about when
Millennials made their first plucky moves into the workplace. In a trip via
the WABAC machine, I remember being in New York and walking to work, when
ear buds made their debut, way before Millennials were at work. Ear buds
slowly replaced those giant boom boxes that only the truly devoted (and
generous) played music from their shoulders.

In the subway and on the street, they were meant to amuse, comfort and
engage you away from the madding crowd. They were meant to separate you from
strangers of all types, some plainly commuters, some a little sketchy and
others clearly insane. Ear buds made sense on the way back and forth to
work, and made jogging a little less hateful.

But when did ear buds become the sword and shield of the modern worker,
including Millennials who don¹t remember working without them? When did we
all agree to sit together, but not really together? When did what we put in
our heads to keep calm on airplanes and separate ourselves from strangers
sitting too closely, become de rigor work attire?

Ear buds are the work version of pretending that an ugly bridesmaid dress is
really something we would wear again. Or it¹s not weird that our
grandparents and parents have married and divorced so many times that the
wedding announcement looks like a playbill. Or, pick anything where you
expend a lot of effort to diffuse the unease of a bizarre, but common
condition we all know just doesn¹t seem right.

Why are we intent of using music to calm the unrest, ease the tension and
otherwise distract people? After all, if working together so closely ­ or
working alone so relentlessly ­ is a quality environment: would we all have
little plugs of sound stuck in our heads?

It particularly baffles me because I can¹t listen to music and get anything
done, and that includes driving to anywhere I don¹t go regularly.

I also wonder when companies will seek to control the sounds in your head.
Apparently, right now we believe that you have the right to control the
music being piped into your head. How long will it be before we leverage the
neuroscience that converges aural conditions with productivity,
decision-making and calming or creative emotional states?

Perhaps the time is right to consider what we¹ve been doing wrong in our
physical workspaces to necessitate drowning each other out. Perhaps it¹s
time to return to good etiquette and good neighbor behavior.

I wonder who is on the dream team that will help us recreate physical
workspace so we don¹t spend eight or more hours a day drowning out the
sounds around us, or the sounds of silence.

If you have an idea about making your workplace a better space, I¹d love to
hear from you. Email Subject: Workspace.

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