Smart headphones might be the wave of the future. Will they connect us, or disconnect us more?

Ever lose ear bud headphones? You don’t want to misplace these from an L.A. designer named Ian DeLucca.

He recently unveiled a limited edition set of Apple AirPods: 1,000 small diamonds along the stems, white gold coating on the rest, and a black-and-white marble stand to rest and charge them. Just $20,000, but act fast because DeLucca only made 25 pairs.

Maybe that’s a touch pricey, but the value of headphones is increasing in other ways.

A few weeks ago, tech columnist Mike Elgan wrote a piece in Computerworld about the attention economy. He noted how advertisers, marketers, media, social networks, app makers and anyone else who wants to reach us are all competing for our time and interest. Nothing new there, but the way to our hearts, brains and wallets might be through our ears.

Tech wearables may be hot, but Elgan says that hearables – light, intelligent and on all day long – could be the future.

Today we swipe on smartphones. Smart glasses were seen as a next big thing, and perhaps they will be. But tiny wireless headphones might end up as the primary interface through which we give commands, and search for and receive information.

Elgan suggests that AI-based hearables will even eliminate traditional hearing aids. Assuming that we can still hear after having buds in our ears 16 hours a day.

I put in my fair share listing to music or podcasts, on top of my headphone use while watching a video or show on any number of devices. That’s typical. What will happen if and when headphones are a portal to connect with the entire world?

The irony is that headphones make us disconnect too. And not just because we get absorbed in whatever we’re hearing, shutting out the people and sounds around us.

People are less likely to approach you if you’re wearing headphones. We know that, which is why many people use headphones specifically for that purpose.

A new survey from Bitkom Research in Germany found that at work 20% of people wear headphones to avoid being distracted. Yet twice as many (42%) said they use headphones just to signal to others that they don’t want to be disturbed. Often, there’s nothing playing in the headphones at all.

How many people also use that sound of silence as a cover for snooping? While others think you’re already audio-engaged, you’re actually listening in to their conversation. An app called Ear Spy markets itself that way, beyond the main function to amplify the sound coming from your phone or tablet. “The ultimate eavesdropping app,” they say. There’s also a way to turn AirPods into remote microphones.

If smart headphones take off, will we become more entrenched in our own heads? Will anybody be able to tell if we’re listening to them?

Given the way technology can already distance us from each other, we’ll see if that’s such a sound idea.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.

July 31, 2019

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