Isn’t it true that everyone these days wears AirPods? Since the release of Apple’s Bluetooth-enabled headphones in 2016, they’ve become an unavoidable part of daily life: Countless individuals walk around, talk, run, and work with those two small knobs protruding from their ears. If you’re one of them, you might be considering upgrading to the 3rd-generation model, which debuted last month and has “spatial audio.” What is spatial audio, and how does it work? I’m not sure what it means, but it sounds interesting! AirPods are essential to Apple’s wearables business, which produced $38.3 billion in net sales from September 2020 to September 2021 due to their widespread use.
In short, AirPods have grown far too common to be considered cool. As a result, rebellious trend-setters are resurrecting an archaic technology: corded headphones. Bella Hadid, Lily-Rose Depp, and Zoe Kravitz, among other fashionable young celebrities, have been caught walking around town wearing obnoxiously wired headphones. @wireditgirls is an Instagram account dedicated to documenting these cords in the wild. TikTokers often record videos that provide both practical and philosophical arguments for reconnecting.
On a practical level, price is really important. While AirPods range in price from $129 for the most basic 2nd-generation model to $179 for the new 3rd-generation release to $549 for the AirPods Max, Apple wired headphones start at $19 and can be even less. Corded headphones are easy to keep track of and don’t need to be charged, which is ideal for unorganised people. Furthermore, some people have vague, pseudo-scientific objections to “radiation,” which they link to wireless pods. On wired headphones, Biz Sherbert, a cultural specialist at the Digital Fairy, a young culture-focused creative agency, narrated a TikTok video. Based on the video’s comments, she concluded that “it appears that people are quite concerned about the potential Bluetooth radiation that comes from AirPods.” (While Bluetooth headphones do produce non-ionizing radiation, it is currently deemed safe for people by the Food and Drug Administration.)
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A cord also gives off a “you can’t sit with me” vibe, which some people like. While AirPods mix in with your outfit, allowing you to appear accessible to the outside world, wired headphones isolate you from others. That, according to Natalia Christina, director of strategy and brand for the Digital Fairy, adds to their allure. “It has a ‘do not disturb’ vibe,” she explained. “It’s sort of subconsciously tied to that grunge style, where it’s about being moody and having that physical barrier up,” says the author.
The so-called “2010s Tumblr” aesthetic, which is a pastel, young twist on 1990s grunge, is sweeping social media platforms. “This huge romanticization and resurgence of the Tumblr era, where people are looking at music as a whole aesthetic experience rather than just practical consumption,” says Shelby Hull, the Los Angeles-based marketing coordinator at Rostrum Records and the woman behind the @wireditgirls Instagram account. “Low-fi technology is perceived as more of an aesthetic experience, and it contributes to that cool-factor,” she concluded.
Corded headphones can be seen as the laid-back alternative to optimised, techie business culture, aside from their vintage shine. They are the “polar opposite” of the “finance-bro style,” according to Courtney Park, a 25-year-old social media manager in Orange County, Calif. “A lot of people make fun of the entire tech-finance-bro look where they’re always wearing their Patagonia vest and AirPods in,” she remarked. She herself recently dumped her AirPods after three years of being let down by their failure to charge, among other concerns. “Cabled headphones have an impression of carelessness and effortlessness,” she remarked.
The person in the Patagonia vest who updates to the most recent iPhone, operating system, and, yes, the most recent AirPods with “spatial audio” is probably too conformist to be considered truly hip. (Though he’d be in good company: the AirPods’ third generation has already received thousands of rave reviews and unboxing videos on Youtube, as well as over 30,000 hashtags on Instagram, after only a week.) @wireditgirls’ Ms. Hull admires the reluctance to participate in the tech churn. “I believe stating, ‘No, I don’t care about contemporary technology, I’m not interested, I can’t be bothered with it,’ is extremely cool,” she explained.
Of course, some users never switched to AirPods in the first place, while others went to corded headphones for a variety of reasons, such as misplacing one AirPod (happens to the best of us). When Bella Hadid’s “strangely luxurious” use of corded headphones was originally lauded by Liana Satenstein, a fashion writer for Vogue.com, in 2019, the world wasn’t quite ready to accept it as a trend. People mocked the idea that wires could be “in” or “out” of style in a viral Twitter thread at the time.
But how might something that a large number of people wear every day escape the trend cycle? In recent decades, headphones have crossed paths with high fashion on numerous occasions, with Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Marine Serre, and Maison Margiela all sending them down the runway in various guises. Dua Lipa, a pop sensation, posted a photo of herself wearing a choker made of wired headphones on Instagram in September, demonstrating the cord’s aestheticization. It was created by jewellery designer and artist Corrina Goutos (and is now sold out), and its components are identified as “obsolete earphones, cubic zirconia, aluminium” on her website. Perhaps I’m not so out of date after all.