Airpods, Everyday Aesthetics, and Subjective Well-Being

by Jonas Andrulonis, Philosophy

airpod image

Should airpod listening be considered an everyday aesthetic activity, and regardless of this classification, can it serve to increase subjective well-being (SWB)? This philosophical but empirically informed essay will define airpod listening as the act of listening to contemporary genres of music using a personal, portable music listening device while going somewhere. Ultimately, the paper will find that, generally speaking and with one major exception, airpod listening should be classified as an everyday aesthetic activity and, regardless of this classification, airpod listening can benefit SWB in a similar way to other forms of everyday aesthetic activity.

everyday aesthetics, airpods, Melchionne, Carter, Leddy, Saito

1. Introduction

Apple came out with the original airpod in 2016 (“Apple Reinvents” ). Today, on any given weekday during the school semester, swarms of college students can be seen walking, jogging, biking, riding electric scooters, or taking the bus around campuses with airpods in their ears. The same phenomenon can be observed with business professionals taking the subway in cities and even high school students walking in the hallways between classes.

Although this essay will use the term “airpods,” this phenomenon is not exclusive to Apple wireless earbuds. In this essay, when the word “airpod” is used, the term is referring to all personal, portable music listening devices, both over the ear and in the ear. These devices, including modern headphones and earbuds, as well as old-school MP3 players, are built for a single listener and can be used in day to day life. Furthermore, when the phrase, “airpod listening” is used, it will be referring to the act of listening to contemporary genres of music using a personal, portable music listening device while going somewhere1. This could be on foot, using a vehicle, or on public transportation.

This paper will attempt to determine what sort of phenomenon airpod listening is and what benefits it can provide for the listener. In order to do this, the paper will compare airpod listening to the concept of everyday aesthetic activities. The origins of everyday aesthetics are often traced back to the 1930s and American philosopher and psychologist John Dewey’s view that aesthetic experiences are not constrained to art and can be found elsewhere in life (Saito 2). Today, despite differing definitions, philosophers typically discuss everyday aesthetic activities as regular activities that have aesthetic merit despite their detachment from works of fine art.

The first part of this paper will attempt to determine whether or not airpod listening should be considered an everyday aesthetic activity according to art philosopher Kevin Melchionne’s “The Definition of Everyday Aesthetics.” Regardless of whether or not airpod listening is an everyday aesthetic activity, the second part of the paper will focus on whether or not airpod listening benefits subjective well-being (SWB) in the same way that Melchionne claims everyday aesthetics activities do. Ultimately, the paper will find that, generally speaking and with one major exception, airpod listening should be classified as an everyday aesthetic activity and, regardless of this classification, airpod listening can benefit SWB in a similar way to other forms of everyday aesthetic activity.

2. Is Airpod Listening an Everyday Aesthetic Activity?

2a. Art Disclaimer

To begin, one might argue that airpod listening should be eliminated from the category of everyday aesthetic activities because it is a means of consuming the art of music. However, doing so would be to artificially solidify the soft boundary between everyday aesthetics and art. In his 2012 book The Extraordinary In The Ordinary, art philosopher Tom Leddy discusses the history of philosophical thought on aesthetics. Until the 1970s, apart from a small number of philosophers including John Dewey, philosophical discussions of aesthetics were mostly confined to fine art (Leddy 9). However, in the 1970s, discussions of popular arts, specifically jazz, rock, and rap music, “contributed to expanding the notion of what aesthetics could cover, opening the door for the everyday” (Leddy 9). According to Leddy, this development, along with the increasing consideration of domestic and multicultural artforms, blurred the boundaries of the art and non-art distinction, making them “softer and more complex” (Leddy 10). Therefore, using this boundary to limit the category of everyday aesthetic activity would arbitrarily eliminate many potential everyday aesthetic activities from the category.

Fortunately, Kevin Melchionne introduces a perspective that excludes only the fine arts from everyday aesthetic consideration (Melchionne, “Definition”, 1). Therefore, when classifying activities based on Melchionne’s “The Definition of Everyday Aesthetics,” one must make the distinction between art and fine art rather than the distinction between art and non-art. Although this still leaves the category of everyday aesthetics with an unclear boundary, it does not arbitrarily eliminate all forms of popular art consumption from being classified as everyday aesthetic activities. Most cases of airpod listening are forms of popular art consumption and should not be eliminated from the category in this way.

2b. Melchionne’s Account of Everyday Aesthetics

In Melchionne’s “The Definition of Everyday Aesthetics,” he defines everyday aesthetics by four necessary conditions. In order for something to be considered an everyday aesthetic activity it must be ongoing, common, an activity, and “typically, but necessarily aesthetic” (Melchionne, “Definition”, 3-4). This section will attempt to determine whether or not airpod listening should be considered an everyday aesthetic activity by determining if it meets these necessary conditions.

2c. Ongoing Requirement

In his account, Melchionne states, “Everyday aesthetics concerns our recurring, daily routines rather than episodic events or projects” (Melchionne, “Definition”, 3). He then gives examples of activities such as cleaning and inhabiting a home, claiming they are done on a daily basis. Although not everyone who owns airpods choses to airpod listen on a daily basis (e.g. college students who only listen on weekdays between classes), this should not be taken as justification to eliminate airpod listening as an everyday aesthetic activity much in the same way that it would be unreasonable to eliminate cleaning as an everyday aesthetic activity if one allows messes to pile up on weekends. As long as the activity is completed on a fairly regular basis, it should be considered ongoing.

2d. Common Requirement

Melchionne holds that everyday aesthetic activities must be “widely experienced or practiced”, “not exotic”, and “generally accessible, but not universally practiced” (Melchionne, “Definition”, 3). Clearly, airpod listening is a non-exotic, widely practiced activity within certain populations such as university students and urban professionals. Observing this, one might argue that airpod listening is only accessible to privileged segments of the population as airpods are too expensive for individuals from less fortunate communities to afford. However, there is a wide range of affordable options for personal, portable music listening devices apart from the iconic Apple Airpod. Therefore, although airpod listening may be more popular amongst privileged populations, it is still accessible to the general public.

Despite the general accessibility of airpods, if there were a secluded or impoverished community in which only one individual was able to obtain a personal listening device, their airpod listening would not be widely practiced nor generally accessible within their community. The activity may even be considered exotic. However, despite Melchionne’s common requirement, one should not eliminate this instance of airpod listening as an everyday aesthetic activity without further consideration. This requirement seems to be addressing a certain aspect of the word “everyday” in everyday aesthetic activities, namely, the familiarity or everydayness of the activity.

Unsatisfied with Melchionne’s depiction of the everyday, aesthetic philosopher Ossi Naukkarinen attempts to better capture everydayness in his article “What is ‘Everyday’ in Everyday Aesthetics?”. He argues that different individuals have different “objects, activities, and events” (Naukkarinen 2) that make up their everyday. He states, “My everyday right now is a special kind of relationship between me and my surroundings” (Naukkarinen 3). By Naukkarinen’s view of the everyday, airpods and airpod listening can become everyday to the user despite their uniqueness in the community. This personalized view of the everyday may be more relevant to airpod listening given its nature as an individual and often isolating activity.

2e. Activity Requirement

Melchionne claims that an everyday aesthetic activity is defined “more by the doing than its product” (Melchionne, “Definition”, 4). This clearly fits with the concept of airpod listening because enjoying

music while moving is an activity that an individual is able to do without creating a product. An airpod listener is engaging with a work of art, not creating one. Still, one might argue that airpod listening is more about the airpods than it is about engaging in an activity.

Later in his activity section, Melchionne goes on to further illustrate what he means by the activity requirement with the example of a window (Melchionne, “Definition”, 4). If a window overlooking a beautiful landscape always has its shades drawn, it does not have any everyday aesthetic value. However, if the window is used to let in light and provide a view for an everyday moment, then it does have everyday aesthetic value. In the same way, if airpods capable of incredible sound quality are always in their case, they do not have any everyday aesthetic value. However, if they are used to play music during everyday moments, then they do have everyday aesthetic value. Airpods only possess everyday aesthetic value if they are used.

Although the window example supports the claim that airpod listening satisfies Melchionne’s activity requirement of everyday aesthetics in most cases, it does have a major limitation. According to music research professor Marie S. Skånland’s study “Use of MP3 Players as a Coping Resource”, airpod listening can be done with the purpose of drowning out external stressors such as crowd and city noise much in the same way that a baby listens to white noise to drown out other sounds while it sleeps (Skånland 5). As it relates to Melchionne’s window example, using airpods in this way would be the equivalent to using flood lights to drive out the darkness from a room. These floodlights would only be appreciated instrumentally, and, as Melchionne reflects in his argument, one should not consider something that does not have aesthetic value to constitute everyday aesthetics (Melchionne, “Definition”, 4). Therefore, if airpods are merely being used instrumentally to drown out one’s external environment and not being actively appreciated for their everyday aesthetic value, then that instance of airpod listening does not fit the activity requirement and consequently cannot be considered an everyday aesthetic activity.

2f. Typically But Not Necessarily Aesthetic Requirement

Melchionne argues that although everyday aesthetic activities typically are aesthetic, one may choose to practice these activities in non-aesthetic ways (Melchionne, “Definition”, 4). For example, one may choose to dress without style, making dressing an mere everyday activity rather than an everyday aesthetic activity. This fits with the idea of airpod listening because of the special instance discussed in the prior section. Using airpods to block out one’s external environment without appreciating the aesthetic value of the music is similar to dressing to cover oneself without enjoying the aesthetic value of the wardrobe. One’s choice to use airpod listening as an everyday activity without the aesthetic element verifies its eligibility for the category of everyday aesthetics.

Provided one does not simply use airpods to drown out the external environment, airpod listening should be considered an everyday aesthetic activity. This activity, perhaps because of its novelty, is not captured by any one of Melchionne’s five main categories of everyday aesthetic activities, which are “food, wardrobe, dwelling, conviviality, and going out” (Melchionne, “Definition”, 4). If airpod listening continues to grow in popularity, Melchionne should consider adding another category to include airpod listening and other similar means of enjoying popular art. This category may also include activities such as listening to podcasts while going somewhere or even flipping through a magazine while enjoying a cup of coffee.

3. Does Airpod Listening Provide the Same Benefits as Everyday Aesthetic Activity?

According to Melchionne, “The point of everyday aesthetics is subjective well-being” (Melchionne, “The Point”, 3). He identifies “four distinct factors in well-being” (Melchionne, “The Point”, 3). These factors are “a high incidence of positive emotion, low negative emotion, satisfaction in key domains, and positive overall assessments [of the individuals’s lives]” (Melchionne, “The Point”, 3). He then discusses how emotions can greatly affect how satisfied one feels with their life as a whole, implying that SWB is an individual’s assessment of their own well being.

In order to regulate SWB, Melchionne claims individuals use the hedonic treadmill, which is “the varied processes by which individuals seek to increase or maintain positive affect” (Melchionne, “The Point”, 4). Everyday aesthetics are a part of the hedonic treadmill. Therefore, if the claim from the prior section that many instances of airpod listening fall under the category of everyday aesthetic activity is accepted, then these instances will be considered a part of the hedonic treadmill. However, because airpod listening is not always an everyday aesthetic activity and, even when it is according to Melchionne’s account, it extends beyond everyday aesthetics, this following section will directly examine airpod listening to see whether or not it possesses the characteristics Melchionne claims are ideal for the hedonic treadmill. Ideal activities for the hedonic treadmill are “ongoing and accessible”, “we can change them”, and they are “self-concordant” (Melchionne, “The Point”, 4).

3a. Ongoing and Accessible

Earlier in the paper (in the “Ongoing Requirement” and “Common Requirement” sections), airpod listening was found to be both ongoing and accessible.

3b. We Can Change Them

In Melchionnes’s explanation of this characteristic, he specifies, “time, effort, focus, and environment” (Melchionne, “The Point”, 4) as factors an individual can control. While airpod listening, the listener can clearly control the time spent listening as well as their focus on the music. Furthemore, although airpod listening can be and in many cases is an effortless activity, a listener can choose to exert effort by playing the role of DJ for themselves, picking songs that go together or represent their feelings in the current moment. Finally, the idea of controlling one’s environment lends itself particularly well to airpod listening.

Airpods can be used to control our internal environment. This can be done by regulating both internal and external stressors. In an interview from Skånland’s study, one participant claims to use her MP3 player to relieve stress and give herself a “good feeling” (qtd Skånland 24). Skandland claims “This woman regulates stress by focusing on the music instead of her thoughts” (Skånland 24). In a similar way, many participants discuss listening to MP3 players to drown out stressful noises and create a calm internal environment. For example, one man who discusses listening to his MP3 player during his rush hour commute (most likely on public transportation) states, “I’m just listening to something I like and not having to hear everything around me” (Skånland 25). Although his external environment is out of his control, he is blocking the stress from entering his internal environment with his MP3 player.

3c. Self-concordant

When Melchionne uses the term “self-concordant”, he refers to activities that align with individual identities and help one to pursue goals important to their identity (Melchionne, “The Point”, 4). Music, by its cultural implications, mood and energy, or simply the meaning of the lyrics themselves, can align with the identities of individuals. For example, many rural conservatives enjoy listening to Hank Williams Jr. because they can identify with his music. Furthermore, airpod listening can help one to pursue goals of self-expression, which are inextricably tied to individual identity.

Although contemporary music may be produced to entertain and make a profit, airpod listening can be used for self-expression in much the same way that wardrobe, one of Melchionne’s five categories of everyday aesthetics, can be. Putting together different songs to create a playlist is similar to buying articles of clothing to build a wardrobe. Furthermore, choosing articles of clothing for an outfit is similar to choosing the songs one listens to on a particular occasion. Both help individuals to express their identity.

One might argue that airpod listening cannot be used as a form of self-expression because only the individual who is aripod listening can hear the music. This person would claim that it would take a speaker or stereo to use music as a form of self-expression. However, this would be equivalent to claiming that choosing an outfit for one’s self is not a form of self-expression if the individual does not leave the comfort of their own home. Even if nobody else sees them, the individual may wear an outfit to express themselves to themselves. Airpod listening should be regarded in the same way.

Airpod listening has each of the characteristics Melchionne presents as ideal to be a part of the “hedonic treadmill” (Melchionne, “The Point”, 4). Therefore, airpod listening, even when it is not an everyday aesthetic activity, is beneficial to SWB in the same way that everyday aesthetics are beneficial to SWB.

4. Conclusion

As long as the airpods are not simply being used to drown out external stressors, airpod listening should be considered an everyday aesthetic activity. Introducing this idea to philosophers and other researchers would be helpful to further society’s knowledge of both the nature of everyday aesthetics and that of airpod listening itself. The only downside to admitting more activities into the category of everyday aesthetics is that the growing number of activities may share less in common and the category may lose some of its meaning. However, this problem could be addressed by breaking everyday aesthetic activities into further subcategories. For instance, each of Melchionne’s five categories could be subdivided into “with others” and “by oneself”. Moreover, regardless of the activity’s categorization, airpod listening is nearly ideal to be considered a part of Melchionne’s hedonic treadmill. Therefore, like everyday aesthetics, airpod listening is capable of benefiting SWB. This is significant because understanding the potential SWB benefits of airpods and similar devices will help individuals and perhaps medical professionals to use them as tools to increase SWB for themselves and patients.

Works Cited

Leddy, Thomas. The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: The Aesthetics of Everyday Life. Broadview Press, Peterborough Ontario, 2012.

Melchionne, Kevin. “The Definition of Everyday Aesthetics.” Contemporary Aesthetics, vol. 11, 2013,, Accessed 15 January 2023.

Melchionne, Kevin. “The Point of Everyday Aesthetics.” Contemporary Aesthetics, vol. 12, 2014,, Accessed 22 January 2023.

Naukkarinen, Ossi. “What Is ‘Everyday’ in Everyday Aesthetics?” Contemporary Aesthetics, vol. 11, 2013,, Accessed 2 February 2023.

Saito, Yuriko. “Aesthetics of the Everyday.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Spring 2021 Edition, 2019,, Accessed 15 February 2023.

Skånland, Marie Strand. “Use of MP3-Players as a Coping Resource.” Music and Arts in Action, vol. 3:2, 2011,, Accessed 10 February 2023.

“Apple Reinvents the Wireless Headphone with Airpods.” Apple Newsroom Press Release, 2016,, Accessed 9 Febuary 2023.


  1. This is a description of the phenomenon, not an exclusive definition. ↩︎


I would like to give a big thank you to Aaron Meskin for both sparking my love in the subject of Philosophy as well as helping me throughout the process of writing this paper.

Citation: MLA