It's been happening more lately. I'll be out on a hike or trail running, and before I even see the hiker coming in the other direction, I hear them. No, not a loud conversation, or even kids whooping it up while they're outside. But the tinny, annoying sound of someone's phone playing music.
The weird part is that music doesn't even sound that good when you hear it over a phone speaker, and breathing at least moderately heavily likely obscures some of the sound anyway. Maybe the hiker feels lonely without a device playing sound, or maybe he's just uncomfortable listening to the sounds of nature. I'm not sure, and honestly, I don't really care.
The point is, it's rude to everyone else who's in the woods with you that day, who might be out there to enjoy the quiet time away from the world. Maybe it's not why you're out on the trails that day, but many of us are there to get away from exactly what you're forcing us to listen to: The particular sounds of your humanity.
I love music, don't get me wrong. I even occasionally listen to it when I run, but I don't play it out loud; I listen on my headphones. That way I can enjoy whatever I'm listening to without infringing on someone else's soundscape. And I'm not bugging any animals or birds either.
Yes, our sounds can definitely distract and disrupt animals' communication patterns — or just irritate them.
But the better (and safer) experience for me is no music at all, so I can take in all the sounds of nature.
Just enjoy the quiet
Just because someone doesn't say anything if you hike with speakers doesn't mean it's not ruining their outdoor time. (See the example in the video above.) There are hundreds of comments on articles and Reddit threads out there about how much it bothers people. Here's what people are really thinking:
"I put these people in the same category as the hikers with the wildly loud screaming kids and people who are carving up the trees or painting rocks/trees with graffiti," wrote k8ecat on Reddit. It's worth remembering that noise pollution is pollution too — and has measurable health effects. Time out in nature can be a break from our urban soundscapes — but not if other people are pumping their jams.
And while it may seem like your music isn't that loud, "In the extreme quiet of nature, with very little ambient noice (cars, machinery, crowds), even low level music is going to be extremely noticeable at greater distances than you're used to in civilization," points out Reddit user real_parcsnrec.
In other words, it's louder than you think.
And don't forget, what for you is an afternoon hike to get your cardio in could be something more spiritual to someone else. "This is a national park — a shrine for so many of us. Blaring music across these sacred grounds is tantamount to yakking on your phone in a cathedral, temple or mosque. It is disrespectful to the sacredness of the place and a direct assault on the sanctity that we acolytes seek when coming to our outdoor sanctuaries," writes Craig Romano on The Mountaineers.
Each of us enjoys nature in our own way, but part of being outside is respecting the environment you're in and the people you're sharing it with. If you want to hike or trail run along to a soundtrack, please do. But put your headphones on while you're at it.