People can go more than a month without having a meaningful conversation with someone new because of how long they spent wearing headphones, research suggests.
A study by audio firm Jabra found that UK headphone users wore them for on average 58 minutes a day, with 38% keeping them on to actively avoid talking to others.
The research found that nearly half of those asked (47%) wear headphones when they go for a walk, 29% said they did so when travelling on public transport and 15% said they were headphones every day for non-work purposes, a figure that rises 30% among 16 to 24-year-olds.
It said people in the UK were now going, on average, five weeks without talking to someone new.
In response, Jabra has called on people to step away from their headphones for one day to reconnect with others around them.
The study has sparked concerns over loneliness and a lack of social interaction, particularly in the wake of lockdown restrictions during the pandemic.
Jabra’s research found that 32% of those asked said they were speaking to new people less often than they did before the first UK lockdown in March 2020, while 20% said they felt significantly less connected to others.
Professor Noreena Hertz, author of The Lonely Century, said the study showed that “we are in the midst of a crisis of disconnection that the pandemic has significantly amplified”.
“But even before the pandemic struck, this was the lonely century – ensconced in our digital privacy bubbles, headphones on, heads in our phones, all too often we actively distanced ourselves from those around us,” she said.
“With loneliness damaging not only our mental but also our physical health – loneliness is as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day – it’s essential that we commit to reconnect in person.
“This isn’t an onerous ask. Researchers have found that even just a 30-second exchange with a stranger can make us feel significantly less lonely and significantly more connected to those around us.”
Jabra managing director of consumer solutions in Europe, Steve Evans, said the firm was now encouraging people to put down their headphones for one day to connect more with those around them.
“For many of us, wearing headphones is part of everyday life, whether for work calls or entertainment such as listening to music when we’re on the move,” he said.
“But from time to time, it’s good to have a break and channel our focus on the real outside world. One of the things the last 18 months has taught us is that social interaction and the company of friends means everything.
“So, we are asking everyone to join us in going truly headphone-free for one day, to take time to connect with friends and enjoy the sights and sounds around them.
“Your headphones will be right where you left them when you choose to come back.”