We don’t need noise-cancelling earbuds, we need nonsense-cancelling earbuds

The world has stopped listening. I said…

There are big problems confronting anyone in the “messaging” game. From newspapers to politicians, from governments to organisations, from radio broadcasters to television broadcasters, to podcasters, narrowcasters and caster sugar, you may as well be giving an inflight safety demonstration for all the attention you are likely to receive.


Conventional wisdom, if anyone is still paying attention, is that the audiences have splintered into asynchronous groups all living within their own reassuring echo chambers, where they are exposed only to algorithmically determined information designed along the principles of a poker machine (four images on a line that keep changing) to keep the eyes and ears only on one thing.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why everyone is wearing noise-cancelling earbuds and earphones on the street. First, the cars are electric and you can’t hear them, but second, with everyone wearing these devices, no one is making any noise to cancel.

I don’t think the fracturing of the audience is the only reason it is getting harder to get the message across. I blame lying going mainstream and being accepted as the norm that is causing the problems.


While we have all lived with varying degrees of discomfort with the so-called “white-lie”, it now seems we are prepared to vote for politicians who trade almost exclusively in absolutely screamingly outrageous untruths of a kind, to borrow a Trumpism “that we have never seen before”. The result is a kind of weary indifference. A heads-down, this is what I am going to do, and I am not going to think about it very much, and I can’t hear anything other than curated music due to the noise-cancelling earbuds.

I think the antidote is to try to practice active listening as often as possible. When we listen actively, we listen for the deeper meaning, not only to what is being said, but by whom, to whom, when, why and what is being omitted by whom to whom, when and why. It is so exhausting, you can see why it went out of fashion.

The modern scourge of telephone customer service provides a great training ground to improve your active listening. The next time you have the misfortune to hear, and you will hear it: “Your call is important to us. All of our operators are currently busy. Please hold, and we will answer your call as soon as possible.” Think about what that really means.

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