During the first year of the pandemic, the United States became the world’s biggest importer of headphones and earphones, with sales topping at $3.36 billion in 2020, according to the Growth Lab at Harvard University. We were all inside, sharing space, conducting business by videoconference, taking lessons online. Headphones made cohabitation possible.
In 2022, people began to be outside more, hybrid work being acceptable and the latest coronavirus variant less worrisome. For some reason, we took our headphones with us, en masse. Podcasts, audio books or streaming music now transfix us as we walk, as we commute, as we wait. If we all are focused on something else, who is actually present in the physical world? Or have we become permanent multitaskers?
Photographer Mackenzie Calle spent two days wandering the streets of New York City to see what a virtually connected world looks like. She began with the daily commuters. “People look like they are going into battle,” Calle said. She watched people take headphones out of their bags and don them before descending to the subway.
Next, Calle visited Bryant Park at lunchtime. Even though people had stepped into the sunshine, they weren’t taking a break. Many of them were still working by phone. “I look through a lens to do my job. I already have an obstacle between me and them,” Calle noted, remembering the times that people felt self-conscious around a camera. “I went unnoticed. They don’t even look.”
An eerie silence has replaced the cacophony of city noises once omnipresent. Calle stood inside the human swarms. “There are so many people around you, yet no one is around you,” she mused.