Earbud Etiquette - New for
the 21st Century

Guy Observing Earbud Etiquette

Earbuds are now a common 21st century convenience.  They allow us to listen to, music, podcasts, even movies and television shows, without disturbing the people around us.

But etiquette, and even safety issues occur when you use those earbuds to tune out from the world.  There's a time to escape, and there's a time to participate.

The Need for Earbud Etiquette

Having music or entertainment is nice when you want to pass the time and not disturb others.  But wearing earbuds demonstrates that you are not interested in the conversation around you.

Earbuds are fine when it is not necessary to participate - after you're seated on a bus, train, or plane, in the library, when sitting alone in a coffee shop, or when walking (unencumbered, of course, and when you can listen and still observe your surroundings).

However, there are occasions when earbud etiquette indicates you should avoid using them:

  • During dinner with family and friends
  • In a classroom
  • In church
  • Attending a concert, performance, or lecture
  • Walking your dog
  • Walking or driving in an unfamiliar area
  • In the company of others to whom you should be giving your attention

Tuning out has its advantages.  But it is very important that you don't do it so often that you tune out other people.  Escaping from social interaction does more harm than you think.

When you have the opportunity, engage in conversation with someone.  You never know what you may learn, or what sort of bond you might build.

Tuning Out at Work

Productivity is the primary objective at work.  Many office environments today encourage collaboration and "open door" policies.  To that end, many companies are designing offices with open desk areas, low-walled cubicles, and glass walls.

While every job requires some head-down time to concentrate on writing a report or email communication, an open environment makes this more challenging.  And so, many workers are turning to earbuds or noise-canceling earphones for help.

However, research on listening to music while doing work that requires concentration proves this counter-productive for the most part.  Unless you are listening to instrumental music, you may be doing yourself - and your employer and coworkers - a disservice.

Many times, coworkers complain that folks using earbuds during work hours are non-responsive when needed.

Etiquette dictates that if you feel using earbuds or earphones at work helps your productivity, keep the volume at the lowest setting to work and give attention to those around you when necessary.

Compromise is key here.

Don't Forget Hygiene!

Face it - there are some tunes that need to be shared.  But do you really want your earbuds in someone else's ears?

Bacteria can be powerful when allowed to colonize.  And an earbud in an ear is the optimum environment to encourage this.

Use discrimination when sharing your earbuds.  If you simply must share a piece of music or spoken word you're listening to, consider playing it through the device speaker.


Earbud etiquette is necessary in our technology-driven 21st century.  Like all etiquette rules, it is in place to provide order and cooperation while encouraging the social aspects of our "business of life."


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