By the end of my first week at Kenyon, I had mastered the art of the Middle Path Wave. For some it’s more of a nod or a smile, but for me, it’s still a wave. The goal was to meet as many people as I possibly could, even between classes, and the physical act of the wave took practice. While I didn’t want to appear too excited, sometimes an emotionless royal wave can be worse than even a nod. It began to work, as the people of Kenyon seemed happy enough to always wave back or smile in return. But there was one more crucial part of this wave that made it successful: unlike others, I would leave my earbuds in my room while I walked to my classes.
My Introduction to American Studies class had recently discussed an object known as the Sony Walkman, examining the ways in which American culture assimilated, and evolved around, this new technology. The Sony Walkman was among the first portable music devices in America, and may be recognized as a small box clipped to the user’s belt as they listened through attached headphones. One of the books we studied noted, “Walkmans are proven to lead people towards more isolated and individual lives by preserving them in audio bubbles, quite literally.” So are AirPods shaping Kenyon’s social culture? I pondered this while walking back to my room along Middle Path, listening to Ritchie Valens. That would be one of the last times I wore my earbuds to class, and it has been one of my best decisions on this campus to date.
I noticed several differences very quickly. I realized how important those simple hellos and laughs are that solidify newly formed friendships in college. I began walking with people to class, rather than turning up my music and pretending not to hear or see them. I even became conscious of the ways in which I didn’t engage with those visibly wearing headphones, which were fewer than I had assumed before. Those ten minutes between classes along the wide gravel path became the foundation for many of my lasting friendships to this day. I could hear friends laughing, trees whistling, and students speed walking to their next lecture.
But this change in attitude was far more deeply rooted than I had initially expected. Coming from Los Angeles only months before, I was accustomed to the constant buzz and noise of the city; this was most likely the reason why I felt the need to bombard my head with playlist after playlist. So it admittedly took time to appreciate the simple, wistful sounds of Kenyon in the fall. But it is something I undoubtedly do not regret lending an ear to.
So among all the advice that incoming freshmen of Kenyon are bound to receive, this is mine: open ears are an open mind, and despite my love of music and podcasts, unplugging on Middle Path was among my best decisions in my first semester.