AirPods in Public places

I ran across this article the other day and thought this is an interesting development. I frequently wear my AirPods and don’t take them out when talking to my wife, but that’s at home and I always pause what I’m listening to. I didn’t realize this was becoming the norm with AirPods in more public settings (office, meetings, shopping, etc…). I think the real issue here is that having AirPods in is no longer a signal that you don’t want to be disturbed.

I don’t work in an office, but I do walk every day while listening to podcasts and will often experience neighbors start talking to me because they don’t see the Airpods. So I have to stop, take them out, ask them to repeat. When I had wired headphones, people didn’t bother. Maybe it’s a good thing that the low visibility of Airpods is leading to more interactions, or at least lowering the barrier.

As for the problem of offices and headphones, I don’t think it’s so much that headphones are the cause, but the symptom. The cause is the scourge (I feel strongly about this, can’t you tell?) of the open office plan. Some of us are easily distractible so the headphone becomes an “office door” that lets us concentrate.

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My AirPods can’t be turned up loud enough to do this and be safe over the long term. I have hard surfaces on two sides of my desk, a concrete ceiling over me, and my desk is open to the main walkway through the office. I hear everything that happens within 40 feet of my desk loud and clear, including the office kitchen which is around a corner; the AirPods only drown out the quietest noises. I’m a “get in early” person so the hour-plus that people are filtering into the office, making coffee, etc. after I arrive is a lot of lost time (which is in part why I’m posting on MPU instead of getting things done :slight_smile: ).

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I find that if I just want to block outside noises I can use nature noise soundtracks (i.e. flowing creek, waves, rain storms without thunder, etc…) or white noise generators to distort the noises at a much lower volume than if I’m listening to music or a podcast. The voices are still there but indistinct so I can’t understand what they are saying.

I’m extremely lucky to be able to work from home. If I do go back to trying to work in an office, I’d probably use my V-Moda Crossfade Wireless headphones to let everybody know I’m trying to concentrate.

An office space without a door is a terrible place to try to get anything done.

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We’ve asked for white noise generators and, more recently, spray foam insulation to be applied to the ceilings.

An office space without a door is a terrible place to try to get anything done.

At this point, I’d settle for a cube arranged such that I can hang a curtain across the entrance.

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My job is about 50% managing/communication, 50% programming. I wear a visible AirPod (left ear) when I want to work in peace. Often I won’t play anything in it. When I want to listen to music but don’t need to be undisturbed, I wear it in my right ear so people can’t see it and thus feel free to approach me, and I remove it to talk. If I want audio and need peace I wear both. :slight_smile: When I’m walking around, I never wear them unless I’m working after hours. I think it’s absolutely a benefit that wireless creates this flexibility.

Meanwhile, I have a coworker who keeps both AirPods in when he walks around; I don’t like the confusion it creates when talking to him and the secondary confusion it creates as people are less sure how to interpret my own use of AirPods.

Personally if I don’t want to be disturbed I wear big over ear noise cancelling headphones. They’re obvious, but still some people talk at me and expect that I can hear them (thankfully they’re learning, our offices are very echoey and they’re realising the benefits of good headphones!).

I do wear AirPods while commuting, and no-one talks to me, but I also don’t know the people I share trams or trains with usually - and I wear my hair up a lot of the time which helps them to be more visible.


Exactly right. I am getting increasingly more easily distracted by co-workers and office noise. I have also noticed that using BT in-ears are being ignored by my colleagues. Big cans are much more effective in discouraging disruption.

Having been subjected to work in open plan offices for the past 20 years, I have a hard time expressing how much I hate them.

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@RosemaryOrchard and I are on the same page here: there’s no bigger signal of “I can’t hear you” than a pair of “can” style headphones, over the ear. I still use the Bose QC35’s with the noise cancelling turned on, so in many cases people will have to come tap me on the shoulder to really get my attention.

Having said that, I work in a university research laboratory, and it seems as though EVERYONE has pair of AirPods. It’s generally accepted that a person can hear ambient sounds through the AirPods, so people just sort of approach one another and start talking as normal. Maybe it’s because I’m around younger people the majority of the time, but this tends to bug me very little now.

Meh… if someone I’m talking to has any kind of earphones in or on their ears, I ask them to take them off. For me, I think it’s rude to be speaking with someone who won’t take them off. It shows to me at least that they are not giving me their full attention which I find very discourteous and impolite.


I find it interesting that people use headphones or earbuds at work as a signal to others that they don’t want to be disturbed. I’ve been wearing earbuds fairly regularly at several jobs for at least 20 years and, based on how often I’m interrupted while using them, I don’t think anyone has ever interpreted them as a signal of anything other than that I happen to be listening to music.

But I don’t intend them to be a signal, and I’ve never done anything else to imply that I do. Maybe that’s the difference.

It can work both ways. If I’m in the groove getting things done and have my headphones on that should be enough of an indicator that, unless the issue is pressing, I’m not inclined for a conversation about anything other than what I’m working on. I’ve only had a couple instances of people stopping me to talk about something mundane, however.

The great thing about the AirPods is that if someone addresses me, I can just pop one out and give them my attention, pop it back in after and my listening experience picks up where I left off. Granted, taking one out signals that I"m giving my full attention in this instance. If it’s something really pressing, both come out.

So interesting to see this kind of development. I agree with many here that I typically use AirPods to signal that I do not want to be disturbed over something unnecessary. I have noticed, however, many people beginning to keep them in virtually all the time, even when carrying on a conversation. I wonder if we will eventually need another sign beyond simply wearing headphones, a “currently playing” LED, perhaps?

Kidding aside, I find this mirrors what I have seen Apple Watch do over the past several years. Before smart watches, checking one’s watch, especially when in a one on one conversation, served as a very clear sign that one was disengaged in the current conversation, clearly caring more about the time than about what someone else had to say, or clearly stressing about being late to something. More and more, however, checking a smart watch is simply an indication that someone is trying to reach you. It could be important and a cause to interrupt a conversation, but it could also be unimportant. The point is, someone checking a watch no longer means what it used to. The same might happen with headphones, at least with those like AirPods which do not block out outside noise much.


At the last place I worked, the owner of the company didn’t want the staff to use headphones. He thought that they prevented interactions and conversations. Problem was that most of the talk in the cube farm was non work related chit chat that I found very distracting.
As far as headphones in public, I wear them when I run. It rains a lot where I live, so I use headphones that can deal with the water pretty well. People usually just wave when I go by. The AirPods go in when I go to the store. I am not sure I can survive Costco without them.

I use big headphones in the office and plane flights, of course.

I usually have AirPods on when walking outside in the street. However, unless I’m in a phone call or similar, I’ve started taking them off when walking into a store or small indoor space.

It’s the new hat removal etiquette!

Depends on the store. Big box store or megamart, I’ll leave at least one in so I have some awareness of what’s going on around me. A small shop in town, I’ll take them both out.

One of my favorite AirPod features is that I can easily hear ambient sound. I walk along listening to podcasts. When I want to stop and talk with someone, I turn off the audio and have a perfectly normal conversation with the AirPods still in my ears. When the conversation is done I turn on the audio again and continue on my way.

This very aspect of AirPod design is infuriating to audiophiles, who want something that completely blocks out ambient noise. Or it used to; I think people are starting to understand that these are two different categories of devices. If you want something that ambient sound, you don’t want AirPods. That is not a failure of AirPod design; it is AirPods doing what they are designed to do.

I’ve worn my hair nearly nonexistent since 2001. I guess I was just getting ready for AirPods to be invented!

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