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Bug In Your Ear? October 2, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings, Technology.
Tags: , ,

Let’s set the groundwork for this post: I love gadgets.  Any and all of them.  Any device with a battery and blinking light gets my undivided attention; if it has settings and preferences, I’ll spend hours learning every last mode and option.  I have yet to meet an electronic object I don’t want to know more about.

Groundwork, part two: Although I have strong opinions on shoes and ties, I will never be thought of as a sartorial trend-setter. I enjoy fine clothing and constantly seek advice on how to mix, match, and wear the right shirt and slacks at the same time.  I’ll never learn, mind you, but hope springs eternal.

However, when gadgets and fashion collide, I am compelled to provide some general guidance.  And that brings me to today’s bit of fashion advice for the gadget-lovers in the audience:

Never, never, never wear a Bluetooth headset in public. Ever. Never.

As much as I love gadgets, and as cool as the concept of a wireless headset may be, there is no excuse to have a chunk of plastic stuck in your ear, twenty-four hours a day. Who in their right mind thinks this is a good look?

We have abandoned, with great reluctance, the pocket protector.  The vast majority of people would not consider strapping a calculator to their belt.  Yet an inordinate number of people seem to feel that a Bluetooth headset is a crucial part of their everyday attire.  Apparently, nothing completes an ensemble of sweatpants, tank top, and flip-flops better than a glowing thing stuck to your head.

Consider the person behind me in line at the deli counter, waiting to get sliced luncheon meat.  What crucial call do they expect to arrive while they are otherwise occupied with the details of turkey and cheese?  What call could be so urgent that the time it takes to get the phone from pocket to ear could make a difference?  A massive stock trade? Providing a nuclear launch code? Advice to a befuddled brain surgeon?  I can’t imagine, but that blinking blue light on the side of their head certainly tells me that they are much more important than the rest of us.

There is one exception to this rule.  I do use a Bluetooth headset while driving, but only when driving alone, and only in my right ear so it is not visible from the road.  My driving skills are such that the headset significantly improves my chances of arriving at my destination in one piece.  But when I do arrive, the headset comes off before I exit the car.

I suspect a lot of people think that these headsets look cutting edge, and tell the world that you are technologically savvy.  Well, they do prove that you can master pairing a headset with your phone, but other than that, you look like a dork.  I can say this with confidence, because I mastered that look long ago.

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1. jbundy - October 2, 2009


2. Nathan - October 2, 2009

Amen! People who wear bluetooth headsets look like big kids playing laser tag, and think people somehow look up to them for it.

3. M - October 2, 2009

Someone should design a bluetooth that look like a giant hoop earring in disguise, with a matching dummy for the other side.
Then it wouldn’t be just dorks, we’d have highly fashionable people talking to themselves in airports like idiots too.

4. Brian Gillooly - October 2, 2009

Right on, Chuck. Nice blog. Pointed to it by another effective CIO, Rich Plane. Thanks.


5. John Baker - October 2, 2009

Personally, I never minded the look. Depending on the make/model it can be a fashion statement. For example, I got a Jawbone when they first came out and was a techie trend setter. Before everyone got one, I used to have people come up to me in the deli line and ask me about my cool headset. And that gave me a chance to chat about the noise reduction technologies.
What really drove me nuts in the early days was when people would be walking along staring into space and speaking loudly. I thought they had schizophrenia… very unsettling. Depending on the setting (e.g. restaurants) now I think it is just rude.
But as far as fashion let me leave you with this image

6. Chuck Musciano - October 2, 2009

@M: I like the hoop earring idea, which also allows pirates to discreetly use Bluetooth technology. So much more convenient than those Bluetooth parrots they keep on their shoulders…

@Brian: To close that loop, Rich and I worked together in a previous lifetime. Small world, huh?

@John: Duly noted. I amend my advice to not apply to anyone named “Uhuru.” But people still look like lunatics as they walk around talking to the air.

Thanks for the comments… this was a good topic for a Friday…

7. Reigneer Nabong - October 2, 2009

I agree that 99.99% of the time, this is the case. But, there is that .01% when the bluetooth is practical to use in public. Here’s an example. We have a 16 month old child. There have been occasions where I had to carry her and talk to my wife (on the phone) at the same time. Holding the phone was possible but more complicated. Having the bluetooth made it easier to do both. As a bonus, I was able to easily switch arms carrying the child as the arm holding her got tired. Again, this is the exception not the rule. And, there are places in which bluetooth and cell phones should never be used. But, there are also times when I just simply forget to take that darn thing off, and as soon as I realize it, I’d quickly take it off and put it in my pocket.

8. Ernie Huber - October 3, 2009

I agree it does seem unnecessary. The only argument I can make for this practice (which I swear I don’t do) is that I haven’t found an easy way to carry them so that they do not get damaged and are accessible quickly if you receive a call.

Any suggestions?

9. Chuck Musciano - October 3, 2009

@Reigneer: Anyone juggling an infant and a phone deserves some slack, so I think you can wear one while parenting.

@Ernie: If you aren’t wearing the headset when the phone rings, just answer the phone. If you are alone, put the headset on in anticipation of a call.

I will also use a headset when I am alone in a hotel room with lousy reception. I’ve had to place my phone on the window sill to get a signal; wearing the headset lets me pace the room while talking without dropping the call.

10. Steven M. Smith - October 4, 2009

Hi Chuck, I learned a long time ago to disregard other people’s style preferences.

There is too many more important thing in my opinion to observe about other people; for instance, their their skill at observing; their skill at determining significance, their skill at communicating; and their skill at steering work to success.

If I look for things that tell me a person’s professionalism, their preference for wearing a bluetooth headset, tattoos and piercings doesn’t matter bit to me because those preference don’t have anything to do with me.

I have found that some of the most competent and best people I know are have a sense of style that is much different than mine. If I thought by imitating their style it would make me as skilled as them, I would do it in a heartbeat. But that isn’t going to happen so I’ll continue following my sense of style, which doesn’t include a bluetooth headset, tattoos, or piercings.

Live and let live. Best regards, -Steve

11. Chuck Musciano - October 5, 2009

@Steve: I understand your point and agree with it, in the sense that we should look beyond surface appearance and appreciate the whole person. However, clothing and appearance is a choice, and there are messages and nuances that are communicated by those choices. If those choices get in the way of someone being effective in their role, they should reconsider.

I have been in client situations where carrying laptops and PDAs into meetings is considered off-putting to the client. We wanted to win the business, so we put all that in our briefcases. Some would say that’s silly, but it was the reality.

It all boils down to effective communication. If your appearance subverts your message, rethink your appearance or give up on that audience. Unfortunately, that judgment is always in the context of the audience, not the messenger.

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