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Life without distraction: take out the AirPods

“I love you.”

I didn’t expect to hear those words, at 8 a.m., as my classmate sat down across from me in A.J.’s.

I stuttered for a response. We’re really not that close.

“Ok, I’m gonna go now. Bye, Mom.” She glanced at me, grinned, and tapped her left AirPod as she ended the call.

It’s a common experience. We increasingly live with the tiny white plastic speakers in our ears, tuning out our surroundings with the newest Taylor Swift album, Ben Shapiro podcast — or phone call home.

When you are in a social setting talking to other people, take out your AirPods.

Since their release in 2016, the snug little wireless headphones have provided invisible walls for office workers, a bubble for introverts, and a constant soundtrack for life. The new Conversation Awareness mode on AirPod Pros introduced in October makes it easy to leave AirPods in all day long while you slip in and out of conversations. When you start talking while wearing AirPods, the setting automatically lowers your media volume or pauses your podcast and amplifies the voices of those around you, according to .

Even if you can hear perfectly well with AirPods in, wearing them in a social setting sends mixed signals to the people around you.

Earbuds say: “I don’t want to talk to anyone right now. Don’t bother me.”

If you want to block out your surroundings occasionally, great. Me too. But when you start a conversation with another person while still wearing a figurative “do not disturb” sign, it can make otherwise friendly interactions confusing, awkward, and even rude. The people on the other side of your earbuds cannot immediately tell if you meant to address them or if you can even hear their responses.

I encountered the same phenomenon daily working at a climbing gym in downtown Charlotte as a high school senior, when the boulder bros would try to strike up a conversation with me while still seemingly plugged into their Aerosmith. It’s off-putting.

It gets worse in office spaces. AirPods and noise-canceling headphones are a fixture in environments where employees want to block out their surroundings and focus. In a from the Wall Street Journal, reporter Nicole Nguyen tested Conversation Awareness by wearing her AirPods all day long for a week.

Nguyen said while the speech-detection technology worked with minimal glitches, it didn’t solve the question of social etiquette. She said she felt rude when ordering at a bakery, talking to her server at dinner, or walking around her office talking to coworkers.

“When you wear AirPods, there’s still ambiguity for the other person,” the article said. “Are you giving that person undivided attention? Are you listening to something?”

Hillsdale students may not be the worst offenders, but we do it all the time. Students walk together on campus or sit at library tables engaged in conversation with one AirPod still dangling from an ear.

Sometimes it is nice to tune out the freshmen in the library, take a phone call, or listen to Earth, Wind & Fire on your walk from Lane to Kendall. But leaving AirPods in while talking to someone suggests the person you are talking to does not have or deserve your whole attention.

This is Hillsdale. You don’t have Brad from Marketing invading your personal space or people hustling you on the street corner, so you don’t need an excuse to look disengaged. Take the AirPods out for a moment and be present to your friends.