Music addiction

Published on 2024-05-02

"I didn't listen to music for 3 months (a science experiment)" by Lauren Kim (youtube.com)

Seeing this video show up in my recommendations was kind of surreal because it's a weird thing to do, and it's also exactly something I did maybe five years ago. Lauren has some interesting things to say about music addiction and what it was like to "get clean," and I encourage you to watch it if you're interested.

I think it's pretty clear that many people are addicted to music. On the bus, at the gym, walking around in public, you might have a hard time finding people who don't have headphones plugged in, listening to anything other than the dull roar or modern industrial life. Without it, we often get irritable. We feel uncomfortable with silence.

I can't remember what specifically lead me to do away with music for a month. It was a time in my life when I was trying to do away with a lot of what I deemed to be bad behaviours—things I feared were sapping my creativity.

I wrote a bit about this time before:

It's not asceticism, it's real life.

I think the most important lesson I took away from this was that being well adjusted doesn't have to mean living a life without pleasure. What's a lot more important is bringing pleasures into your life in a responsible manner.

When I was younger and I tried to eschew "desires" that I feared were hurting me, I fear I was actually throwing the baby out with the bath water. There was always so much there that I was missing out on, so much being casually written off. And obviously doing that should have negative consequences on your life. Maybe I needed to metaphorically watch paint dry for a while before it started to really make sense to me, but at the same time, those experiences had such a strong influence on my understanding of what "asceticism" means. Influences I am still in turn working to eschew.

I didn't name-drop it, but I was talking about how I went on a music detox back in high school. Before long, I started to look back on that experience as me sort of going overkill on myself and being anti-fun. I think watching Lauren's video reminded me of why I did it in the first place.

There is something a bit sacrilegious about the way we listen to music today. There's something sacrilegious about how we do a lot of things for that matter. Ostensibly, I enjoy listening to music. Music is a pretty big part of my life and it always has been. But I can't say that the act of listening to music feels very special to me, or that it makes me feel good in and of itself, like my other hobbies do. Instead, listening to music is kind of like a default state that I slip into to escape any number of discomforts in life.

I shared a lot of the same experiences Lauren brought up in her video. I know I (and I expect many others) use the omnipresence of music to isolate ourselves in our own little worlds. Music allows you to close yourself off and shut out your environment. Not constantly listening to music naturally brings you back to the moment. All of a sudden, the only thing your ears have to engage with is the sounds of the birds, or snippets of conversation as people pass you on the street, or the wind, or the rain, or the many other songs of nature.

Of course, it also means you need to listen to the rhythmic whooshing sounds of car engines as they pass on the streets, and the horns, and the many other obnoxious noises we're forced to contend with on a daily basis.

I think whether or not it's actually desirable to be auditorily "in the moment" depends a lot on where you live. So I have a very hard time begrudging someone of having Spotify playing in the background all day. After all, if music is an addiction, it's more like coffee than crack. Probably not all that bad, evidenced by how basically everyone's addicted to it. There's a good reason for why it's so common.

It's hard to explain just how amazing it felt to listen to music again after the month was over. I kept a list of all the songs I wanted to listen to during the detox in anticipation of the morning after. Having gone so long without it, even listening to the mundane songs gave me this incredible feeling. Importantly, after the detox, I wasn't listening to these songs like I usually would, while working on assignments, or while going on a walk. It wasn't passive, but rather a very active experience. It was more reverent. It transformed the way I experienced these songs.

I think that was what detoxing from music really showed me. I love music. I seriously consider listening to music a hobby, but it's hard for that experience to be special when I'm doing it 24/7.

If I were to do it again, I think I'd try to bring more podcasts and audio books into my life. That kind of goes against the spirit of prioritizing active experiences, but I spend a lot of my life doing mundane things that I'd really rather not be doing. Things that I usually don't have much of a say in doing, like commuting or cleaning my home. These days I always make a point to listen to podcasts while doing the dishes; I often save up episodes from my favourite podcasts for the occasion. It's probably good to learn how to approach boring tasks without some kind of distraction for the same reason it's good to not spend your entire life distracting yourself, but having something like that to motivate you, to make these things worth looking forward to, can be extremely helpful.

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