Now Playing in Your Headphones: Nothing

Illustration by Jason Raish

Excerpt from this article, which I thought would be fun to post a week away from the London office’s move to our new digs on the South Bank. Back in my Ogilvy New York days, when we moved from Worldwide Plaza to the “open office desk plan” Chocolate Factory, colleagues quickly adopted the trick of popping on some headphones as a clear “Do Not Disturb” signal.

When we wear headphones, it is a signal to everyone that we’re shut off, unavailable and, much like napping adults, absolutely not to be bothered. Our ear shields are barriers against barbaric city attacks like catcalls, construction or unwanted conversation from a friendly co-worker who just has, like, a super quick question “if you just have two seconds.”

We’re commuting, running errands and running departments under the polite assumption that no one knows our secret (and apologies to anyone this is outing): the headphones are on, but nothing’s playing…

Basheer Bergus, a 28-year-old associate director at a digital marketing firm in New York, said that he “definitely” uses headphones at work without any sound coming through. Like most of us, he uses them as a privacy screen. And if he sees someone whom he wants nothing to do with, he throws on his huge wireless Sennheiser cans — a sign that says “Silence, please.”

…Hailey Hayman, a 24-year-old marketing manager at a Brooklyn company that makes sustainable party goods, said that she feels “too exposed” when she doesn’t wear headphones at the office. When she has them on, she feels as if she’s “inside a more secluded space,” she said. “Without headphones on, I’m too likely to get distracted listening to other people’s conversations or distracting other people with my own conversation.”