What We Hear

by Rob Gregory Browne

So I walked into Best Buy over the weekend and starting wandering around the TV section for no reason other than I like to look around.  I don’t need a TV.  I’ve got a really big one that I don’t have time to watch, although my wife gets a lot of use out of it.

Anyway, I was wandering around, checking out the 3D TV—where everything looks like 2D cardboard cutouts placed in 3D space—when a saleswoman snagged me to give me a demo of the new Google TV.

Now, this post isn’t about Google TV, but let me get this out of the way:  Google and Sony have made the first real step toward marrying the TV with Internet browsing.  Yes, I know there was WebTV years ago and that was a disaster, but this is so much more than that.  It is, however, still in its infancy and it’ll be a while before it’s ready for prime time.  Although this was about as close as I’ve seen.

But like I said, this post isn’t about that.  Flash forward about half an hour and I’m in the car with my wife and we’re headed toward Target where she can do some shopping and I can slip into the little sushi store next door and order a roll.  Gots to have my sushi.

So we’re riding along, heading down the freeway, when I start telling her about the Google TV and I admit I was pretty excited about it.  I’m telling her, “I’ve been waiting for this for ten years,” and went on to describe some of the features.

When I was done she said, “I’ve got a potential blog post for you.”


“Do you remember that cartoon by Gary Larson?  The one where the owner is talking to his dog?”

I said I did.  It’s one of my favorite cartoons.  In fact, here it is:



“Well,” she continued, “after you said ‘Google TV’, all I heard was blah blah blah USB blah blah blah Leo Laporte blah blah blah.”

The post, she said, should be about what people say to us that makes us automatically tune out.  In her case, anytime I start talking technology it’s pretty much a foreign language to her, so she starts thinking about things like how worried she is about the kids or whether or not the DVR is properly recording her tennis game or what she needs to do when she goes into work on Monday.

For me, I tune out as soon as someone starts talking sports.  I’ve never been a sports guy and the moment the conversation turns to whatever pitcher or quarterback or point guard is screwing up the team, all I’m hearing is blah blah blah.

Or clothes and shoes.  When I’m around women and the topic, as it always seems to do, turns to somebody’s GORGEOUS shoes, I’m on another planet.

Of course, all this time I’m nodding and pretending to listen because I don’t want to be rude, but honestly, sometimes you just have to tune your brain to an alternate station just for survival’s sake.

And I think that’s true for all of us.  We hear bits and pieces of what someone is saying, but for the most part we’re gone.  For every single one of us, there’s a topic of conversation that just doesn’t hold our interest for longer than a nanosecond, and we do what we have to to survive it.

So before this post turns into one of those topics, I’ll ask what I came here to ask:

What subject is an immediate turn-off to you?  When do you find your mind wandering to the point that all you hear is blah blah blah blah blah?

I promise to listen. 🙂


39 thoughts on “What We Hear

  1. Dao

    Turn-offs? Let's see: I can't stand gossips. I would eaves-drop once in a while if the conversation is interesting but if it turns into, "cousin so-and-so just bought a new house and uncle such-and-such bought his wife a diamond ring the size of your fist and nephew yada-yada, despite being 13, just got a record deal but refused to support his parents," I would be out of the door. Not just out but "Seacrest, out!", you know.

    Also, when a bunch of friends and I get together, I tend to tune out when they talk about TV shows, movies, and musicians I'm not interested. I just nod my head and pretend to hear while plotting their dead away in my head until I heard "Brad Pitt", "Denzel", "George Clooney", "chocolate", or "free food." The last one is the residual effect of grad school, btw.

    It's actually getting worse, my selective hearing. Sometimes I find myself turning on the TV without listening until I hear something interesting. The uninteresting stuff is just background noise. I guess it's time for me to go retro and turn on the radio. Plenty of background noise, less electricity consumption.

  2. Laura Jane Thompson

    I'm with your wife, Rob. Start talking about technology and I'm planning my grocery list (unless it has to do with photographic technology). Lately, however, my biggest excuse to daydream has come in the form of Fantasy Football. My husband runs several leagues and would talk about it non-stop if I didn't eventually say, "Dude, give it a rest."

    Same with Ultimate Fighting. I'm sorry, but if your only talent in the world is the ability to cause grievous injury to another human being, and you want to be called a hero for that, I reserve the right not to hear about it.

  3. PK the Bookeemonster

    It's not an immediate tune out. However, my husband loves guns. He doesn't hunt; he shoots competitively and collects guns. He loves the details of them and he loves to talk about them. I am not passionate about them but I know how to make the right noises to indicate that I'm knowing what he's talking about and have learned a few key phrases to move things along. I'm sure it would be the same for him if I talked to him about books which I don't because I know he doesn't care about them as I do and I have an internet outlet to get my fix.
    Other tune outs can include women (I'm a female so it just happens this way) who go on about their children/grandchildren, the kids' schools, etc. I.don't.care. But one has to be polite, doesn't one.

  4. Debbie

    For me, I walk a fine line between fascination and alright already. When something excites someone and they go on about it because they are so totally jazzed, I just love to listen, even if I don't get it. But when your husband is explaining how he built a projector and the cool idea he had for bass traps, and how complicated acoustics are, and…I tend to forget that it might interest the listener who's hearing it for the first time, not the twentieth. Poor hubby, my eyes just glass over, kinda like his do when I talk…period! I do however stay tuned in enough (I think) to rescue our guest/friend when they seem to have heard enough. I must mention that it truely is cool having a theatre in your home, and I'm proud of my husband for building it. It's not super swanky, just rough and functional in a kick ass kind of way.

  5. Darlene

    At the moment I tune out as soon as someone starts giving me home remedies for wart removal. The munchkin has a skin tag–not a wart–that the doctor is going to snip off at the end of the month. But people keep sharing their wart removal techniques even after I tell them it's not a wart. My favorite, before I stopped listening, was to cut a large potato in half and tape (yes tape) it over the wart that's not a wart and leave it there for 3 days. Then bury the potato in the back yard at midnight. There may have been some naked dancing involved as well, but at that point I stopped listening.

  6. TerriMolina

    Sports for me too, although I *do* like to watch sports, I just don't care about what player is getting $5 million a season or who was traded where. If I walk in on a game (and I like the team) and ask my husband the score I get all the stats of the players with it…of course I'll let him finish and then say "sorry, I stopped listening after the score." Funny thing is…he knows I stop listening, yet every time he'll rattle on.

  7. Robert Gregory Browne

    Huh. I read through all these comments and didn't even realize Zoe's was among them. Sorry about that Zoe.

    The post has gone through a revision, by the way. My wife tells me I got it wrong. That she didn't tune me out completely. She heard a few phrases amidst the blah blah blahs. At least I think that's what she said.

  8. JT Ellison

    I actually do try to listen to people, because the subtext is the fascinating part. You never know when you might learn something. Granted, there are a few parts of Randy's work that are over my head, and sometimes I don't want to interrupt to get him to explain and end up worrying about the laundry, but I do think it's really important to listen.

    Oh, and Dusty. GOLF! Yay, golf! : )

  9. Gayle Carline

    I'll pretty much listen to anyone talk about anything if they say it in an interesting way. I think my ears are always trying to learn new things, even if my brain couldn't care less. I stop listening when I realize the person doesn't want to actually CONVERSE with me, they just want to barf their story/opinion/ideology in my direction. That's when the timed "uh-huh" comes out and my mind is free to wander around. Coincidentally, it's also when I start to wonder whether that book on the coffee table is big enough to use as a murder weapon.

  10. Robert Gregory Browne

    Debbie, I get the repetition thing. I'm guilty of that. I do that with my wife. My friends. I've gotten to the point where I preface everything with, "I've probably told you this before, but…"

    Doesn't stop me from telling it again, however.

  11. Kagey

    My husband, the engineer, likes to do calculations out loud and when he arrives at an answer say "is that what you got?"
    I'm good with figures (my BS is in math) but I am totally visual when it comes to calculating anything. It's particularly frustrating for him when he wants a confirmation of his result. Yeah, sorry dude, I lost you after the first number.

    I also tune out people who tell me a story for the 2nd, 3rd, yadayada time. Some folks can't be stopped but have to run through the whole thing again, so the easiest thing is to tune out until they come to something new.

  12. Dudley Forster

    Rob — 200 geek points for knowing how Leo Laporte is. I miss Screens Savers, hell I miss Tech TV.

    When I was in law school I loved philosophy of law (my undergrad degree was in philosophy). I tended to go off on these rants about positivist and natural law theorists. My friends would move there hands over their heads with a beeping sound, meaning I had left planet earth.
    My wife and children learned to tune out anything to do with law at an early age. Yet they would watch legal shows on TV. I asked why and they said, “Yeah, but you’re boring.” When I went into the computer business and I was explaining a problem one of my kids raised her hand and asked, “Dad can I buy a vowel?”

    Things I tune out: Anything to do with fashion, especially shoes, discussion of golf, discussions about anything to do with the really insipid reality TV shows like Bidezilla and Housewife’s of New Jersey; anything to do with pro wrestling or ultimate fighter crap; excessive prattling on about almost any sport; Anything concerning celebrities and their lives (It’s a complement I do not include authors in my definition of celebrity) I couldn’t care less if Lindsay Lohan is sleeping with a gazelle.

  13. toni mcgee causey

    My husband and I just had this same conversation the other night. He was talking about the merits of one scope over another scope and as he got into the detail, I heard, "….scope can be mounted……. but the other one….. long long explanation….. and this one's much better."

    I nod a lot.

    That said, I have learned a tremendous amount from him. I just can't retain the details. I've grown to love shooting (we go to a range nearby) and he wants to get into competitive shooting, so we'll go more frequently, which is fine, because I get to practice my handgun skills. Weirdly, I'm a pretty good shot with the rifles… I just don't know the names of all the gun parts and who manufactured them and when this feature changed or why that feature is there or where the idea for the feature came from. I want to point it, shoot it, and figure out how to have a tight grouping. The. End.

    Of course, I probably do the same to him about football. And writing. But he feigns interest really well, so it's all good.

  14. Connie Keller

    My daughter's a math major so anytime she starts talking about matrix theory or proofs, my eyes glaze over and I murmur, "Oh, wow" whenever there's a pause in her "sharing."

  15. michael

    There is even a song about this. "Linda Goes To Mars" by John Prine. To quote the first two lines:

    "I just found out yesterday that Linda goes to Mars.
    Every time I sit and look at pictures of used cars."

    I'd quote more but you might stop listening.

  16. Spencer Seidel

    I love a good conversation about almost anything, even about things I know nothing about, provided the other person is willing to entertain my silly questions.

    But there is *definitely* one thing that drives me crazy and causes me to tune out completely: when people drone on and on about themselves without ever including me in the conversation.

    I once attended a fancy-schmancy party in New York City given by Richie-Rich types. At the dinner table, two or three people dominated the hours-long conversation with Broadway and what was good and bad and who was doing this or that and blah, blah, blah.

    Finally, perhaps finally realizing that I was seconds away from keeling over into my desert cup, a woman said, "And what's *your* favorite show?"

    I said, "I hate show tunes. I like heavy metal and Frank Zappa."

    She looked at me for a few seconds and then went right back to prattling on. I'll never forget it because those people dominating the conversation didn't seem to realize that 80% of the guests were just eating and smiling politely and NOT talking and NOT listening.

    Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

  17. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Oh, I'm really sorry, Rob, but after "I walked into Best Buy…" all I heard was blah, blah, blah.

    Yes, I know, coming in at comment number 37 or something I'm suddenly not the guy with the original comment. Oh, well.

    By the way – I've seen the future of 3-D and it's awesome. A company at Culver City Studios called Venture 3-D is doing 3-D reconstructions for movies like Titanic, The Matrix, etc, and they look gorgeous. They are even doing it for dramatic films–think Jane Austen–and it places you right in the movie. I saw a demonstration screening at their facility and it blew me away.

    If your wife was reading this, she'd hear, "I've seen the future of 3-D blah, blah, blah."

  18. KDJames

    Golf. Absolutely. I've learned how to make appropriate noises after politely asking the expected, "So, how was golf?" I feel bad when my son is the one recounting Every. Single. Shot. But it just kills me with guilt when I tune out my mom. I love it that she's still golfing at her age, I just can't listen intently to the recap.

    There's a person I work with (let's just call him my boss) who talks incessantly. I mean, he talks non-stop all day long. Mostly he's talking to himself or sometimes other co-workers or it's stuff I don't need to know. But every once in a while he says something I DO need to know. And he doesn't direct it to me or preface it with anything to get my attention. It's just part of the stream. So I have to constantly pay attention at some level. Makes me crazy. Plus, it's exhausting. At least he doesn't play golf.

  19. michael

    Robert, "Linda Goes to Mars" is on John Prine's "German Afternoons" album and is available at iTunes.

  20. Reine

    Hi Robert, this is kind of new to me. I'm interested in everything. I can't see myself pretending to listen.

    I don't know about 3D TV… I think HD (is that the same thing) looks like those cardboard cutout looking two-eyed viewer things….. aha stereoscopes!

  21. Nancy Laughlin

    Two things drive me nuts and always cause me to tune out. The first is politics. I don't even care if we share the same politics. It's boring.
    The second is when someone goes on and on for 30 minutes to an hour describing friends and conversations they've had with people I've never met. I'll listen the first time, for a while, but the second, third or forth time, the story is told, sorry, blah, blah, blah.


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