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The psychology of music while at work

July 23, 2012

Alt. title: how to make a co-worker miserable with your music choices in 3 easy steps

1. Restrict the music to just about anything that gets radio play these days and is in line with expectations for your race/sex.
2. Use crappy speakers so it can barely be heard and sound awful as you do hear it. (cellphones are very good for this)
3. Don’t forget to sing along in a half-mumble, half-squeaky voice to the chorus – sometimes without the song playing.

With these simple steps, you too can be a nuisance to those unfortunate enough to have to work in the same area as you for a substantial amount of time, but that’s not all!  Crank up the silliness to eleven with some slightly unnerving quirks including: only mentioning currently popular artists, not playing anything other than radio singles, and not going outside your expected genre.

It only takes so many cloying attempts at trying to use a very small selection of music to socialize with me before I just shut down and come off as a cranky person.  Trying to kill the conversation with obvious signs of disinterest comes to me far more naturally than pretending to care much about whatever is playing on the radio right this second.  The problem isn’t snobbishness or some kind of hipster sensibility so much as atmosphere, and the reason behind it is less farfetched than I initially guessed.  Put it this way: would you work out to cheesy R&B seemingly made for teenaged girls to randomly burst out singing in public, or to something where the lyrics don’t get much in the way of the bass and beats?  If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, the latter is the answer, and “work out” can be replaced with “work listening”.

Moving away from the quality of music, another issue is with rhythm – internal rhythm that is.  See, your average radio pop song is guaranteed to be somewhere between 3:30 – 5:00 minutes in length.  It’s the aural equivalent of staring at the clock every few breaths and noticing how slowly the time goes by.  A few songs represent about 15 minutes, and a whole album no more than 70-something minutes.  The song-minute association could be played around with, particularly if one were to use something like “Dancing Mad” in its entirety or both versions of “Highbrow” played back to back, but it’ll still be there.  In the end, music and work would rarely go together for me, and especially when the music is likely the same thing I’ve heard plenty of times and don’t want to hear again for a while, if ever.

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