Ever wonder if our whole modern urban lifestyle is really just quarterlife? Like we’re maybe so focused on getting to the next goal, the next day, the next paycheck, whatever, that we merely skim the surface of now?

Kinda like paying full price for the best seats in the theater…then watching the show through a foggy windsheld and earmuffs.

OK, so that’s a little sideways. What brought that on?

Hipster headphones, believe it or not. Explanation follows.

The folks where I work get kind of, uhm, enthusiastic. Noisy. Passionate. All those discussions taking place right outside my office can make it hard to concentrate, even with the door closed.

So, like most office troglodytes, I keep a set of headphones at my desk. When I need to focus I plug in, click on some tunes (or white noise or even nothing at all)…and get back to work.

Until last week I used my old Sony studio headphones, which I’ve beaten half to death over the last umpty-ump years. When the earpiece fell off and the bare wires in the cord gave me a bit of a shock I asked Ron, our video producer and sound engineer, what he’d suggest for a replacement.

He obligingly handed over his own headphones, “Get some of these and you can’t go wrong.”

I took his advice, ordered a pair (found ’em used, cheap, on Amazon) and they arrived on my doorstep last night. Plugged them in and gave them a listen.

Wow. Four hours later, I was still plugged in, entranced. I wasn’t just hearing music, I was hearing the musicians making the music.

Drumsticks striking stretched hide, fingers plucking strings, the oboist’s breath exploding delicately through a reed, singer conserving breath for the next phrase…

The more I heard, the more I sought: Did you know Freddie Mercury gives four syllables to the word “landslide” in Bohemian Rhapsody? I finally caught every enunciation in Vivaldi’s Gloria: Laudamus Te.

And about then it hit me: I wasn’t hearing anything new; it had been there all along. Same songs, same musicians.

What had changed? Me.

I’m not discounting those headphones, they’re really great, they make it easy to pick out every subtle nuance. But you know what? If I listened closely to those tinny laptop speakers, I could still hear those “new” sounds.

I simply hadn’t stopped and really listened before, not the way I did when the headphones gave me a reason to pay attention.

Quarterlife. How much have I missed by not paying attention?

Maybe quarterlife is the compromise we make for trying so many new things. Maybe we’re supposed to just skim quickly across the surface and never dive deep where the really good stuff lives.

Yet isn’t that pretty daggone disrespectful to the maker? When someone’s built a great song, sculpture, landscape, the polite thing to do is pay attention. I’m thinking, maybe, that I’ve been sliding past with barely a nod, like the people who go to a play but spend the whole time talking on their phones.

So how do you go from quarterlife to full-life? How do you force yourself to pay attention to the background noise?

Food for thought, anyway.