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Dr. Zorba Paster: The danger of today’s music isn’t the message. It’s the medium | Lifestyles


Perhaps this is old fuddy-duddy thinking, but every time I see someone walking down the street with earphones on, oblivious to their surroundings, I worry.

Not about the things my parents worried about — that rock ‘n’ roll would ruin my mind and turn me into a drug-addicted zombie — but about the real danger: accidents.

Yesterday, I saw a teenager who was riding his bike hands-free, texting on his phone and wearing his earbuds. Talk about an accident waiting to happen!

I had a cousin in California, my age. Nice guy, a businessman who worked long hours for his wife and kids. One day, he was walking through his local grocery store parking lot, earbuds in place, when his phone rang.

You can just imagine the rest. Distracted by the phone and unable to hear what was happening around him, he was run over by a car. The driver was backing up and didn’t see him. Whammo, my cousin was dead, gone, a senseless death.

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In the past decade, there’s been a nearly 50% increase in pedestrian deaths. Texting and earphones are part of the problem in this epidemic.

There are reports of young people who have been listening to music or texting and have been hit by cars or by trains. A few years ago, a Milwaukee teenager was killed by a train he didn’t hear.

When it comes to trains, this is the grim statistic: In one out of four train-pedestrian deaths, the train engineer sounded the horn before the crash. There was plenty of time for the person to step out of harm’s way, had they only heard what was going on.

Two things are happening here if your earbuds are in — you’re distracted by the device you’re using and you’re depriving yourself of sensory input you need to walk safely. Crank up the music and you crank down the outside noise.

We spend a ton of time immunizing our kids, teaching them about seatbelts and, more recently, about wearing a mask when it’s necessary. But how many parents are talking to their kids about texting or playing loud music while walking? Not enough.

What to do? It’s simple. Turn down the volume so you can hear what’s going on around you, and turn off the phone screen.

Beyond accidents, loud music in your ears is also destroying your hearing, especially the high frequency range we use to hear speech. Study after study bears this out. In many factories today, people wear hearing protection for just that reason.

My spin: While I’m on a roll, I actually have one more thought about walking with stuff in your ears — it’s OK under the right circumstances. In fact, I love to listen to stories and music.

But when there are birds outside chirping, that’s kind of nice to hear, too. More than that, when you’re alone in your thoughts, it can let your imagination run wild. You might plan your day, think about someone you love or solve all the world’s problems.

Sometimes, even in our age of electronic distractions, silence can still be golden. Stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.

In the past decade, there’s been a nearly 50% increase in pedestrian deaths. Texting and earphones are part of the problem in this epidemic.

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