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Do Headphones Help Or Hurt Productivity? 405

Hugh Pickens writes "Derek Thompson writes that there is an excellent chance you are wearing, or within arm's reach of, a pair of headphones or earbuds. To visit a modern office place is to walk into a room with a dozen songs playing simultaneously but to hear none of them. In survey after survey, office workers report with confidence that music makes us happier, better at concentrating, and more productive. But science says we're full of it, writes Thompson. 'Listening to music hurts our ability to recall other stimuli, and any pop song — loud or soft — reduces overall performance for both extroverts and introverts.' So if headphones are so bad for productivity, why do so many people at work have headphones? The answer is that personal music creates a shield both for listeners and for those walking around usm says Thompson. 'I am here, but I am separate. In a wreck of people and activity, two plastic pieces connected by a wire create an aura of privacy.' We assume that people wearing them are busy or oblivious, so now people wear them to appear busy or oblivious — even without music. Wearing soundless headphones is now a common solution to productivity blocks. 'If music evolved as a social glue for the species — as a way to make groups and keep them together — headphones allow music to be enjoyed friendlessly — as a way to savor our privacy, in heightened solitude,' concludes Thompson. 'In a crowded world, real estate is the ultimate scarce resource, and a headphone is a small invisible fence around our minds — making space, creating separation, helping us listen to ourselves.'"

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