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The Headphones Rule (theheadphonesrule.com)
69 points by siong1987 on Jan 18, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

"Rules" like this are silly to write down.

By telling people that wearing headphones is a signal that someone wants to be left alone, you're asking people to make assumptions about those of us wearing headphones with no intention to make a statement about our availability.

I wear headphones constantly, as do two of the guys I work with directly. We simply want to drown out office white noise, and wearing just one ear doesn't work for that. If Ryan is wearing headphones, that means he is secretly watching The Daily Show on the clock and there is no better time to interrupt him today. Sometimes my department will focus on changes to system audio, then everyone has headphones on.

Try learning how to ask someone to leave you alone. Or, put a sign up on your desk that says "I'm "not here' today, email me instead", one of our guys does that, its pretty unambiguous.

I am pretty sure whoever put that site up is being highly facetious.

I wouldn't be so sure. I know a handful of passive aggressive people out there that would think this is a great thing to print off and post above their desk so they can point at it when someone breaks the 2 headphone rule.

I've worked with someone before who had this rule.

It was great for company culture. /s

Why is this passive-aggressive? Many of us do work that often requires some period of concentration, yet most office cultures are built around constant interruption. And, many of us don't have office doors we can close that indicate to others that we are busy and would prefer not be interrupted.

Is it unreasonable to make yourself unavailable to your co-workers all day, every day? Yeah, probably. Is it reasonable to have some period of uninterrupted work time? Most definitely.

It's passive aggressive if you can't just talk to your coworkers and explain when you need to concentrate and expect them to respect your space when you need it.

Perhaps, but if you have to tell them you are currently concentrating and don't want to be disturbed, you've already been disturbed and had your concentration broken.

Again, I'm not suggesting that every workplace must be monastery-quiet, but somehow being able to signal to your co-workers that you don't want to be disturbed doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

You only have to tell them once. I've asked my coworkers if they see me with my headphones on and I'm not obviously dicking around to send me an instant message or email when I'm free I'll hit them back. All other times I'm fair game.


I work part-time as a barista, so I'll offer this version of the rule: The Barista's Headphones Rule

Wearing headphones while ordering your drink?

* No headphones, you get your drink as you wish

* One headphone, I make your drink and shoot you a meaningful glare

* Two headphones, I secretly make your drink decaf

Luckily, as a software developer, your primary function is not to respond to interruptions; they're just a career hazard.

If you sell me a decaf drink, you're doing a bad job and deserve to lose it.

Alternatively, if you're being a jerk to service staff, you deserve bad service.

I disagree. Judging by his comment I think he would make a great barista: smart, lots of personality, and commands respect. Good on him.

I wonder what the ratio of programmers suffering from tinnitus is going to be in 10 or 15 years.

Being almost literaly forced to use headphones/earphones to perform one's job definitely says something about the working environnment.

I think/believe it's a given we - programmers, sysadmin, or computer guys* - should be given a noise-free environnment to work in.

Personnaly I can't focus on programming or any cognitive task (except my playing the guitar) while listening to music (even classicial, lounge, etc.).

* in fact, everyone who needs to think hard about problems should be. Heck... everyone working in an office should be entitled to a noise-free environnment when needed.

I sometimes use clamshell headphones that are isolating enough that I can play quiet music or nothing at all, and they still make a big difference over not using them.

More often than not I have them on playing nothing, it both helps with the noise and sends the message that I don't want to be bothered.

i do this a lot too, specifically because it signals that I'm busy. I generally enforce the headphone rule, and even when not listening to something, the fact that it signals that I'm not to be disturbed is exceptionally useful.

I can't focus on my programming if it's noisy / there's people talking, but I don't feel right when it's dead silent either, :p. I like music while working. Also, having headphones on does not imply high volume / risk of hearing damage; using noise-cancelling (passive or active) headphones or earplugs, you can even lower the overall volume of noise you get daily; the din of a busy office room can be quite high in terms of decibels. And hearing damage is a factor of decibels * length of exposure.

>almost literaly forced

AKA not forced. I use earplugs instead of loud music to counter outside noise. I rarely need them, though.

AKA almost literaly forced because while there may not be any bullet points in the contract forcing one to use headphones you'll get fired if you don't get your job done. And to get your job done in a noisy environnment you need to stick something into your ears.

A tacit unwritten condition to get a job done is still a condition.

On a side-note I find earplugs don't really work on the long-term. Sound is drowned out but not enough (for me). Moreover, if one has develloped tinitus, earplugs will make bearing it worse over time.

It's just wasteful to wear two headphones when you could give the other pair to someone else.

A more sensible rule: If I'm wearing headphones in/over both ears, it's possible I can't hear you, so you might want to make sure you have my attention before you talk to me from behind for ten minutes then get upset when I don't respond. Actually, forget the headphone part of that rule.

I made a geeky version of this using an industrial stack light, an Arduino, some MOSFETs, an RFID card reader, and node.js.

Pictures: http://imgur.com/a/dX33N Videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bButG4EWSfE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQK0fW6-7jA

As my desk is in the far back corner of the office, and the light is visible from anywhere in the room, people know if I'm heads-down on something, away from my desk, or available for interruptions without having to come over and potentially interrupt me by asking. I can change the light by scanning my building ID card or using a web interface.

Note that this was done as an experiment to learn a bit about electronics, and a bit of an evolving joke to see how much random technology I can cram into a project. While I may be socially immature, I'm not as bad as "YOU CAN'T TALK TO ME WHEN THE RED LIGHT IS ON". I think it is useful, nevertheless, as an ambient cue when I am really trying to focus on a problem.

In my case, this couldn't be more wrong. One needs only wave their hand in my periphery to get my attention--this encourages others to come to me to bounce ideas, get opinions, etc.

Listening to music is definitely helpful to me when it comes to focusing on the task at hand, but it shouldn't come at the price of diminished capacity for collaboration.

Here's my trick to using headphones without injuring my hearing over the long term:

Wear earplugs.

Put in some good quality shooter's earplugs to block out most of the room noise. Then headphones. Turn the headphones to the minimum volume necessary to hear the music. So now you have no background noise, and a nice, low soundtrack to help kick out some work.

A more comfortable solution is to get some good noise-cancelling headphones. I have used Bose QC15s for about 3 years and QC3s for several years before that. They are indispensable to me. Audio-Technica makes some less expensive models that block nearly as much noise but are less comfortable to wear. I also hear good things about noise-cancelling earbuds.

I have my own headphone rule: If I can hear your headphones over my headphones, then your headphones are too loud.

I can't focus without my music, it doesn't have to be loud but it has to be there, with bass and snares usually.

You'd think it's pretty obvious though that when you have earphones in you're focused, you don't want to be interrupted, sadly though, that's not the case for where I work. I'm still spoken to even when I'm not listening, I'm working, it's okay to email me or poke me but don't keep talking. I'm not listening.

Two headphones? How does that work?

This may seem absurd, but I actually do use two sets of headphones for maximum noise protection. Why go through all this trouble? Sometimes you're forced to work in a noisy environment and there's no way around it. As a bonus, it's great for sleeping or watching movies on a plane.

I got the idea from this HN discussion:


Things I've tried:

- earphones (J2)

- inner ear phones (X10, e2c)

- noise canceling over ear headphones (QC2)

- earphones / earplug + ear muff (J2 + H10A)

The last option gives the best noise protection. I've experimented a bit, but J2 buds[0] or regular ear plugs are most comfortable with noise protection earmuffs[1] on the outside. The inner ear phones are not comfortable with an additional over ear headphone.

For $30 I can achieve a level of noise isolation where I can't hear myself typing, or someone speaking directly at me 12" away.

[0] J2 ear buds ($8): http://goo.gl/vQZb4

[1] 3M Peltor H10A 105 dBA ear muff($22): http://goo.gl/6P24g

I would guess the site actually means earphones, not headphones.

1 headphone = one ear covered

2 headphones = both ears covered

Or a set of earphones + a set of headphones. You know, for maximum something.

Maximum channels! I've been there, I needed program, preview and multiple intercom lines. Never again!

I'm not sure if you're being serious or not. But it sounds exciting and dynamic whatever it is.

Well, I had to bring industrial earmuffs (30 dB) while working for one customer, as there was such a noise in their office (lots of people shouting at each other) that strong in-ear phones were not good enough.

I had to do that when there wasn't enough space in the office and had to work with the designers. Interesting discussions to be had about the acceptability of background music through speakers. You'd be surprised just how wide-ranging and deeply-felt opinions can be!

Only one ear is also weird, it's like half a headphone.

The rule would have been less weird if it was:

no headphones, you can talk to me. headphones, do not talk to me.

  > 1 headphone = one ear covered
Then no headphones is better. I love my music in stereo.

For me it's more like (in a work environment)

No headphones, I'm sitting in a quiet productive environment and you can talk to me

1 headphone, I need to pay attention to the world while I'm trying to focus on a podcast or something

2 headphones, work environment so fouled up and loud I cannot concentrate and I'm not in a situation to fix it / am feeling too lazy to fix it.

Saw this as a funny meme a while ago, share it around. As for the need of a website with this on i'm not so sure its worth the domain cost to create this. Unless I am missing something.

I thought this would be some cool project that detected my headphone jack input and play some music or a error message if not detected.

This reeks of immaturity. Not since high school has the sentiment of "I'm wearing headphones to be left alone" been a popular or reasonable one. At least during those years, peers could look at you and make the mistake that you're so deep that music has more influence/meaning than the world around you. If this is, as I feel, an attempt to legitimize this kind of "signal" to other professionals who want to collaborate with you, I feel pretty sorry for the kid who's hosting this.

I can appreciate individuals who don't have the capacity to swap context throughout the day, but only when they can be mature enough to explain themselves to me like an adult; and I certainly don't need a visual accessory to que my interaction with them.

>I can appreciate individuals who don't have the capacity to swap context throughout the day, but only when they can be mature enough to explain themselves to me like an adult...

But even that is a context switch, and context switching is expensive. Your 30 second interruption results in 15 minutes of lost productivity (these are just made up numbers). A passive signal that you are not to be disturbed at this time sends the same message without the context switch or, more important, the need to switch back into the work.

For me, there's no workplace behavior more obnoxious than someone walking up to my desk and blabbing on about something while I'm in the middle of a critical section of code or on the verge of a breakthrough (these are the cases when I'm usually wearing headphones). Headphones, at the very least, signal that you should get my attention before speaking, and that I'll be with you in a moment because I can't afford an immediate context switch for your "problem."

Edit: Spelling

Even a 3 second interruption can have consequences: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/study-a-3-...

What a waste of time and space.

Agreed. Is this supposed to be funny? Serious? Interesting? I can't tell.

Also, I don't think 'one headphone, two headphones' is quite right. Maybe the site means earphones?

When is Sean Parker joining your board...

"Drop the 'The.' Just 'Head Phones Rule.' It's cleaner."

That would significantly change the meaning, at least in American English. Instead of "rule" being the noun and "headphones" the adjective, "headphones" could then easily be taken as the noun and "rule" the adjective with the change you propose.

"The Headphones Rule" more obviously means "a regulation pertaining to the usage of headphones".

"Headphones Rule" is very common slang meaning "headphones are superior".

Headphones rule! Yeah!

Related HN thread of a post from the PoV of the "other side":


(spoiler: for MBA types, headphones = bad employee)

So a few people like it, a lot of people don't.

This has made HN front page. Regardless of whether it's suppose to be serious, funny, or facetious, I think it's working [by causing us to discuss it]. Look this discussion is actually a great thing we are having... some folks think this is a great idea while others don't. Many may have gone on never thinking that others might disagree. For those that despise it as passive/aggressive... this is your chance to let those who like this idea know it's not as cool as they may think.

what I prefer is don't disturb by default and ping by irc if you want to talk.

> 1 headphone, you can talk to me if i like.

How is someone supposed to know in advance whether you 'like'? isn't that the whole point of the headphones?

or was this supposed to say "if you like"?

When I was younger I could enter the zone regardless of office noise.

Now that I work at home I find I often have to add noise.

How about:

no headphones, I can talk to you.

1 headphone, take it off: I require your full attention.

2 headphones, you're fired.

Looks like someone woke up on the wrong side of the office floor this morning...

It depends: Do you pay for coding or anything IT related, or do you pay for a psychologist to hear your problems?

Of course you have the right to fire your psychologist in that case.

Ok, maybe it's a troll. (What isn't?)

1. I don't understand. Is the wearer of 2 headphones not allowed to talk, or is he not allowed to be verbally addressed?

2. If all the girls are wearing headphones, how the fuck...? Am I RIGHT?!

Doesn't quite work when working from home, alone.

You could always talk to yourself?

Unless you're wearing two headphones, in which case, don't.

I'm printing this out as soon as I get to work.

what does wearing two headphones even means?

Really, Hacker News? Is this what you want to see on the front page?


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