If you haven't heard (pun intended), there are over a billion people are at risk for hearing loss today. That's BILLION with a “B”. And while this may be music to the hearing (loss) industry's ears, it's a huge health issue headed our way at some point in our lives.
In the late 70's, Sony launched a music-game-changer that allowed people to listen to their favorite cassette tapes on-the-go. The Sony Walkman led to a generational shift in the way we consumed music, and subsequently pioneered the mobility-based (consumer) society that we live in today.
The Walkman Effect
The Walkman Effect refers to the way music listened to via headphones allows the user to gain more control over their environment. It was coined by International Research Center for Japanese Studies Professor Shuhei Hosokawa in an article of the same name published in Popular Music in 1984. While the term was named after the dominant portable music technology of the time, the Sony Walkman, it applies to all such devices and has been cited numerous times to refer to more current products such as the Apple iPod. – Wikipedia
Since the first Walkman was marketed in 1979, many iterations followed. A few of those include; the CD Walkman (known as the Discman), the Video Walkman, the MiniDisc Walkman, the Video Walkman, and the (Walkman) MP3 Player. Today of course, Apple is the dominant player in this space with their ubiquitous iPod and iPhone owning the market.
37 Years of Loud (and Localized) Music
If you're following the math here, we've been addicted to headphones for 37 years! (Ya I know that number threw me for a loop too.) The effect of loud and localized music over time has proven damaging to our health.
StonyBrook School of Medicine notes that “Headphones and earphones appear to be the most damaging. Since noise-induced hearing loss is a result of intensity (loudness) and duration of exposure, these devices may be capable of inducing a permanent bilateral sensorineural hearing loss — especially if they are used at a volume setting of four or above for extended periods.”
Exposure to noise pollution, especially for younger people, has gone from huge boom boxes and car stereo speakers to sound delivered directly into the ear through headphones or earphones. – Stony Brook School of Medicine
The consequences are great. As we noted back in March of last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes hearing loss as a major health epidemic and they're watching this issue closely. In February of 2015 they issued a press release which voiced their concerns: “Some 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars and sporting events.”
One thing's for sure, if we don't do something to curb our appetite for loud/localized music soon… Apple's new blockbuster product might just be a hearing aid. I can see it now – The iHear, coming to a Mac Store near you!