April 21, 2018

Listening to music through earphones has been the norm for a long time, so why do we still play the television out loud?

I remember the days of annoying music-playing. I was a horrible offender myself when I was a teenager living with my parents. But headphones became the norm, and I wonder if people today even realize how much annoyance we are spared.

And yet TV rages on, filling the sound space of our homes and leaking out onto the neighbors. Where are the headphones? I know you can rig something up, and I have an old Roku with a headphone jack, but it's not the norm.

Here at Meadhouse, we have exactly one television and it's right next to where I work on my desktop computer. All of this is by choice. We could have more TVs, and I have another desktop computer in a distant room and a perfectly good laptop computer and many comfortable rooms where I could blog.

I'm not complaining, but I did have the occasion to wonder aloud this morning about why TVs don't have headphones. This led to a discussion of the Dylan line "You should be made to wear earphones," from the 7th (and last) verse of "Ballad of a Thin Man":

Well, you walk into the room
Like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground
There oughtta be a law
Against you comin' around
You should be made
To wear earphones
Bob Dylan obviously doesn't like Mr. Jones, by why is wearing earphones the solution? Bob and Mr. Jones are not sharing a space within which Jones is playing some music or show that is bothering Bob. Mr. Jones has clearly walked into Dylan's space and Dylan thinks he doesn't belong there and ought to be excluded (and for some reason on this occasion Dylan looks to the law to solve his problems). But it seems the reason Mr. Jones doesn't belong in Dylan's room is that he doesn't pay attention to the reality of what's going on there.

Jones is not using his senses — he's not seeing (his eyes are in his pocket), he's not smelling properly (his nose is on the ground), and there's something wrong with his hearing. Why earphones? It's the mid-1960s, and earphones are unusual, mostly associated with radio broadcasters or audio technicians. I think we have to assume that Dylan meant that Mr. Jones was so bad at understanding what was going on around him that he'd need to get inside headphones to be able to hear what is easily audible to the other people at this party.

That's quite different from the usual reason to say "You should be made to wear earphones" to somebody today, which is that you don't want to hear what they're playing out loud. And for the most part, no one is telling us to wear earphones. We willingly enclose ourselves within earphones and seek the isolation and exclusiveness of the inside of our own head — when we're listening to audio. But when we've got video with our audio, when we're watching TV, we play it out loud like it's 1965. And we still don't have headphones.

48 comments:

traditionalguy said...

Mr Jones sounds like the new Digital Generation that is unaware of people except those on their Device. Today's Mr Jones probably walks around talking in a loud conversational voice on Blue Tooth. Result is everybody ignores him/her back, and that is a bad habit the next time a real person attempts to talk to you.

tim maguire said...

If your tv is disturbing the neighbors, it's too loud. Headphones are more important for music because is generally played louder than "necessary."

Michael K said...

About 30 years ago. I drove a car pulling a trailer with my older daughter's stuff to Spokane where she was starting law school at Gonzaga. Riding with me was my 10 year old younger daughter who was entertained by a small video-TV combination with an ear phone jack. She watched "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" over and over as we drove to Spokane. Only the ear phones allowed me to keep my sanity.

rhhardin said...

I never use earphones, even though they get an advantage in intelligibility by removing room echos.

Which noticeably matters in high speed morse. If you move away from the speaker it becomes less and less readable even though it's plainly audible.

Earphones are prohibited for bike riding and probably car driving, the idea being you can't hear sirens. But on a bike they increase wind noise as well, owing to turbulence over the earbud.

Michael K said...

I see kids joining the military with significant hearing loss from loud music and ear buds attached to music devices like iPods.

Unknown said...

I wonder if sitting in a comfy seat in front of stereo speakers is considered an antiquated method of enjoying music these days. Does anyone do this any more? -willie

Unknown said...

"I remember the days of annoying music-playing... I wonder if people today even realize how much annoyance we are spared."

I've made this observation myself. I wonder if this has affected the stereo business? People used to brag about "their systems", their big, expensive stereos. They don't seem to any more. I'm glad to be spared of all the noise, but I wonder if people used to headphone or earbuds have the same appreciation for sound quality?

buwaya said...

I can't stand earphones, or headphones.
You are disconnected from the world, isolated, and can't hear anyone trying to get your attention, and nobody bothers to try.

Music or video sound through speakers permits multiple channels of communication to get through. Comments. Conversations, maybe.

Carol said...

I don't like the sound right in my ears like that. They are wrecked anyway from 50 years in the music business and very sensitive to noise. And TV is more fun when it's shared.

Also, when the TV is on I use breaks to get up and uh, and do things around the house. I wish the all-movie channels had more breaks in them, actually. You'd think with TCM's demo they'd give us a break.

Fernandinande said...

And there's a score of harebrained children
They're all locked in the nursery
They got earphone heads they got dirty necks
They're so 20th century
Well they queue up for the bathroom
'Round about 7:35
Don'cha think we need a woman's touch to make it come alive?

William said...

Remember the song "Me and Mrs Jones". Meeting Mrs. Jones was a hipster's way of describing a drug rendezvous. In Dylan's song, Mr.. Jones plays the part of a cuckold.. Thats how far ahead of the curve Dylan was. He was the first person to politicize cuckolds......I use headphones for the porn movies, especially when I watch them at Starbucks.

Virgil Hilts said...

I don't think I have had a TV in last 20 years that did not have a head phone jack and any decent TV from last 5 years or so has bluetooth you can use for headphones.

SteveR said...

The use of the mute button.

Flat Tire said...

I got . my elderly mother a wireless headphone for her tv. She loved it and kept the rest of us sane. They were a bit clunky.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

My husband sometimes has trouble sleeping at 2am. Putting the TV on low and what my teen aged daughter used to call "the dull channels"...like nature shows with droning voices talking about the lives of marmots or something....will lull him back to sleep.

We have a big overstuffed chair and ottoman in the master bedroom, which is large enough to have a lounging area. Great for a quiet reading space during the day. He can sit with his feet up and cover himself with a down comforter and eventually doze to the dull channels.

The problem is that I can still hear the TV and eventually get interested in some of the shows.. Oh...Neanderthals? Cave Bears? NOW> I'm awake. Damn it.

We bought an adapter for the TV that has wireless headphones. Problem solved.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

I've known a few people who turn on the TV as soon as they get home from work and keep it on until they go to bed. They are not necessarily sitting in front of the TV watching it all that time nor are the sound blaring, but they somehow need that constant background noise even if they are in the kitchen cooking dinner and can't see the TV. I don't get why they don't just turn the radio or play music if they are so uncomfortable with silence. I imagine they grew up in homes where the TV was always on.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

"nor is the sound blaring"

BJM said...

We used Bose wireless headphones, which are smaller and lighter, for a while then switched to wireless earbuds as they are more comfortable. Headphones/earbuds allow everyone to set their own sound level, and with earbuds we can still converse and share the experience.

Our "TV" watching is via streaming so we use Roku players, and their 4th generation units proffer earbuds that plug into the remote and have a pretty decent dynamic range. They're not wireless, but since they are RF the Roku box doesn't have to "see" the remote, one can pop the remote in a pocket and go for a snack or the loo and not lose the plot. I also use the Roku app on my phone when I want to go wireless.

Having said all that...we still have a MacIntosh stereo setup with JBL powered speakers for music...cuz you need to "feel" the music...and yes, a Beogram turntable being dinos and all.

Ann Althouse said...

"And TV is more fun when it's shared."

Well, so is music. So the question is: How much TV watching is done alone compared to what's done with company?

TV/music alone is a very different activity. My favorite kind of TV is something that you watch with someone else that gives you something to talk about. Reality shows are especially good for this, I think, because you can keep interrupting and talking. It's much harder to concentrate on a drama enough to experience it in a way that makes it worth talking about.

Sometimes the other person sits with the person who's watching something they like, just to be around them. Meade sits next to me when I watch some shows he wouldn't watch on his own, notably "American Idol" and "RuPaul's Drag Race." And I sit with him when he watches sports (though I insist that he skip or mute the commercials and he often watches the whole thing with the sound off).

stevew said...

Listening to tv without headphones provides a superior sound experience, at least it does with my equipment.

Roy Lofquist said...

Never try to analyze Dylan unless you've scored some really good shit like Panama Red, or maybe some Thai Stick.

Ann Althouse said...

"I've known a few people who turn on the TV as soon as they get home from work and keep it on until they go to bed. They are not necessarily sitting in front of the TV watching it all that time nor are the sound blaring, but they somehow need that constant background noise even if they are in the kitchen cooking dinner and can't see the TV. I don't get why they don't just turn the radio or play music if they are so uncomfortable with silence. I imagine they grew up in homes where the TV was always on."

Yes, there is something important there. I think people feel a deep need for a sense of company in the home, especially in these days when families aren't so big and the elderly don't stay with the younger generations. It's really a shame that the damned news becomes the sound in the home instead of the voices of loved ones.

Robert Williams said...

i've been muting commercials for decades (when i watch tv which is not often). muting commercials frees up a lot of time (a third of each hour?).

children should be taught this habit (by example). silence is golden. it presents an opportunity to fill it up with living -working or talking or doing.

Freeman Hunt said...

My husband and I used wireless headphones for years to watch movies at night while our children were sleeping. Now we've moved, and we put the television in a room that is sort of off by itself, so we don't use headphones anymore.

I hate the sound of television programming, so that's never been a problem because it's never been on.

Carol said...

How much TV watching is done alone compared to what's done with company?

About half and half with us. And it's a chore, because DH likes the violent crime and fantasy-scifi stuff of Netflix and I like other things. I did get him into old classic movies though so we both enjoy those.

Before he gets up in the morning I watch TV for news, weather and markets with the sound off, using closed captions. Then I move to the PC.

Ambrose said...

I don't like headphones. Never use them.

Rockeye said...

The difference is that television has historically been a collective activity, especially for old guys like me. I can remember entire family sitting around and watching the same television show, but listen to the same music would have been unthinkable

etienne said...

It's not very abnormal for people to no longer watch TV.

I have a TV in the basement. It's so old it has a picture tube, but new enough to have a digital tuner.

I think I watched it once last week. I sometimes turn it on to see what direction the tornado is heading, but otherwise I find it too commercial.

It seems every channel wants me to buy something, or sue somebody.

Instead I read books, or program my computer in Java...

rcocean said...

We lost the habit of turning on the TV and leaving it on, years ago.

When growing up, people would just "Watch TV" - there were no VCR's, so you just turned it on, and multi-talked or half-listened to whatever was on.

No more. And thank God people are now using headphones. My College dorm was a nightmare of people playing bad music - loudly.

etienne said...

My daughter bought two parakeets and kept them in a rather large cage. She would let them out after closing the room doors and windows, and basically let them frolic.

She got married last year, and moved to Texas, and thank God almighty she took those fucking birds with her.

That screech they emit was enough to drive me crazy. I would sometimes have to crank-up my Slovenian Polka. Now there is a nice sound to work by...

Her husband called recently to say hello, and asked if we might be interested in the birds. I have never let-on that I didn't like the birds, so people just assumed I didn't mind them, but this was just my being polite.

I told him if they got the birds stuffed, I would love to put them on the fireplace mantle.

etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
etienne said...

I had headsets when I bought my first stereo.

The headsets of the 70's were not very comfortable. I don't think the quality of the audio was very good either.

I think ear buds are probably much higher sound quality than anything before the turn of the Century.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

I once had a boyfriend who taught his parakeet to whistle the theme song from the Andy Griffith show. Which it did - over and over and over again. I wanted to feed that thing to the neighbor's cat. I was relieved when we split up and I didn't have to listen to the damned bird anymore.

JAORE said...

Earphones are prohibited for bike riding

Not everywhere.

My wife leaves the TV on all the time. Even when we are out of the house. She is convinced it assures the dogs we are coming back.

She is, otherwise, an entirely remarkable person.

BJM said...

JAORE said Earphones are prohibited for bike riding

Something I bet few CA drivers know, I didn't until I had to take the written drivers test for the first time in 20+ years as part of a mature driver program, you're only allowed to use one earbud while driving a vehicle in California.

Jim at said...

I've used wireless headphones (either plugged into the back of the receiver, or an adapter into the headphone jack) for at least 15 years.

Not for inside the house - though that's helpful after hours - but for outside working on the property. Range up to 75 yards and I can listen to baseball, hockey or whatever sporting event is on while getting more chores done because I'm not inside watching.

Got the idea from Lileks.

khematite said...

It's been suggested that Dylan got the image of people wearing earphones from watching tv news broadcasts about the UN's General Assembly or Security Council sessions. In which case, it would appear that Mr. Jones should be made to wear earphones because he and Dylan are speaking different languages.

Michael K said...

My wife leaves the TV on all the time. Even when we are out of the house. She is convinced it assures the dogs we are coming back.

Mine, too. It goes on first thing and she falls asleep to it. I sometimes watch for a moment as I walk by.

The dog is probably kept company of we are out.

Megaera said...

JAORE: your remarkable wife sounds quite sensible. While I can't swear as to the meaning our new dog (a shelter-surrender Malamute-GSD with some anxiety issues) derives from the classical music channel on the TV or the radio (and how closely does that last reference date me?) he is noticeably calmer in his crate when we supply low-volume background music.

The Spousal Unit and I exercise to TV and music on the stereo ; some of the gear -- especially the rower -- create enough noise of their own that headphones were crucial. Long ago I had an analog TV with a headphone jack and went hardwired; then headphone jacks disappeared so I got the upscale version of "TV Ears" until THAT connection too disappeared from lower-end monitors. We use a kimchi-rig method currently but I don't know how long it's going to last. I know, I know, blue-tooth --- but I hatehateHATE bluetooth, and it's my last resort.

I'm definitely in the dinosaur crowd that prefers non-headphone sound.

Presumably the dog is also. Though we haven't asked him.

Roger Sweeny said...

With TV, you're looking at something. It's nicer if the sound is coming from where you're looking.

DavidD said...

Usually, the TV is across the room. The only way headphones work are if they’re wireless. Stereo headphones don’t have to be wireless.

Also, watching TV is often a group activity. How do you do headphones for that?

rhhardin said...

On the speakers, Imus from 6-9, Armstrong and Getty from 9-12, Rush from 12-3.

The latter two being automatically recorded, the first a random show (2007-2018) playback.

Various DVDs selected from my vast pile at random in the evening. The dog has learned to recognize a DVD being ejected, wakes up and we go outside to do business.

I can put another audio channel on the speaker without interfering with recording the first, to listen to a nonce youtube or something.

Ingredients, some spare laptops, Total Recorder, FM band transmitter, Behrenger mixer board, lots of audio isolation transformers.

rhhardin said...

The computer/audio setup evolved from a simple system in 1989.

rhhardin said...

Final ingredient, a baby monitor so what's on the computer can be heard in the yard.

Receiver on hat, so that it's not blocked by my body if I'm turned the wrong way.

Critter said...

I always understood Ballad of a Thin Man to be about music critics who tried to put Dylan in a category or box, i.e., protest song writer, voice of the generation, folk/country/rock/blues/jazz song writer, etc. Dylan always hated that, especially because he thought the critics didn't really listen to his lyrics or didn't understand them at all.

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked (i.e., Dylan - baring his all in his lyrics)
And you say, “Who is that man?”

You try so hard
But you don’t understand
Just what you’ll say
When you get home

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Dylan also wrote about being someone who knows more than critics do. The song was meant as a take down of music critics. If you've ever seen one of his early interviews, you can see some of the same word games going on in the song.

Mr. Forward said...

I threw a brick at my TV, now I get all the education channels.

Char Char Binks, Esq. said...

Why do people ONLY listen to books while alone or with headphones? Can't they share?

Joe Veenstra said...

On of the iterations of the Roku streaming device has a remote that also has an audio jack in it for headphones which is kind of a nice feature for people without BT tech. Not sure if that is available with any other devices. Would be nice for couples when one goes to sleep earlier than the other.