I wrote this for my abnormal psychology class, in response to the prompt “Identify a behavior that you engage in that others might classify as ‘abnormal’. Why is this behavior seen as different or unusual? How have you responded to the reactions of others?”. My choice of topic may at first seem glib, but I enjoyed writing it, and I like where I ended with it. I love being in school again. Nowhere else might I be asked to conjure up something of this nature.
I work in an office where the median age is in the late 50’s to early 60’s. Being 22 years-old, a number of my habits and behaviors naturally come across as abnormal to my co-workers. Some of these are merely a feature of different tastes and interests, but those that seem to have the most significant impact upon my interaction with my co-workers seem closely related to the different kind of relationship I have with technology. I have been using computers in various shapes and sizes since I was three years-old, and I generally find it extremely easy to engage in multiple activities (of a specific nature) simultaneously or in rapid succession.
One of these activities is listening to music via headphones – which I do almost ceaselessly, every day. I am the only individual in the office that does this with such frequency, and it seems to create a point of confusion in social interaction for my co-workers due to its relative abnormality. As best as I can tell, many of them seem to perceive music listening as a unique activity, engaged only in specific contexts. By contrast, I spend an average of ten hours every day listening to music – it is an integral aspect of my work, recreation, and travel. To account for this divide in perception, I have had to develop a series of indicators to assist my co-workers in understanding that they have my attention.
I keep the ear on the side of the entrance to my cubicle free, and an ear phone in the other, so as to ensure I hear when my attention is being requested and to visually indicate my availability. However, on nearly every occasion where a co-worker comes to ask a question or bring something to my attention, their facial expression and physical demeanor express great uncertainty until I go through a specific ritual to indicate my awareness of their presence. I must take my hands from the keyboard, turn my entire body to face them directly, remove the ear phone from my ear, and finally, verbally acknowledge their presence. If I leave any of these actions out – keeping my hands on the keyboard, or not removing the ear phone – they will stand next to me, silent and unmoving. Yet, if I was not listening to music in the first place (that is, if I did not have an ear phone in), they will have no trouble engaging me as fluently as they do any others in the office.
This might at first seem like an obvious and necessary ritual for a work environment, given that it is of high priority that individuals know that their communications have been heard and understood. However, most of these interactions last less than thirty seconds and tend to involve relatively trivial matters. Among my peers, it is almost universally understood that music is not an activity that need be eliminated for anything but the most important of engagements.
Although it can be a tiresome ritual to have to perform multiple times a day, the benefits I gain from listening to music far outweigh the inconveniences of adapting to my co-worker’s expectations. I accept that it is a fundamental consequence of the generational divide between individuals whose lives are inseparable from modern technology and the habits it enables, and those for whom technology has altered or erased the norms of the past.