Like pretty much every middle class American, I got these things in the last few months.
And since using them more, I've noticed something.
The fact that AirPods fall out of your ear so easily has gotten been meme status lately, which third party sellers know very well.
All you have to do to fix the problem is pay 10 bucks for those little silicone headphone socks.
But why does this happen in the first place?
It seems like all the articles I found dismissed it as meh, maybe your ears are too big or earwax, or I don't know dude, you're the one who wasted 150 bucks on headphones.
But that answer isn't good enough for me.
There's a chance to imagine the body complexly here, there's a teachable moment, there's a way to see science.
So what is it about your ear anatomy that makes Airpods fall out so often?
I'll entertain some of the earlier guesses:
Sure, but it's actually not that big of a deal here.
Earwax, or Sarumon, no, cerumen is mostly cholesterol and fatty acids, so it's gonna reduce the friction between surfaces by dropping something called the coefficient of friction, which reduces the force required for those headphones to pop out.
But it's not gonna drop the force of friction down to zero, so we'd still need to look at the materials sliding past each other.
AirPods are made of a rigid silicone plastic, while these older headphones have rubber tips.
The rubber is gonna have a way higher coefficient of friction.
Earwax will drop that number for both types of headphones, but I couldn't find the exact value.
Man, I google weird stuff.
Got it, there's a drop in friction because of earwax, but because of how AirPods interact with your body, that really doesn't matter anyway.
To understand why though, we need to know what part of the ear we're talking about.
We really don't care about the inner or middle ear, since, as far as I know, no headphones actually go that far down this tube, the external auditory meatus.
Plus, that outer part of the canal is still flexible, elastic cartilage.
According to a 2008 audiology textbook, it's an inch deep and about a quarter inch in diameter on average.
That matters for traditional ear buds, but AirPods actually sit in the auricle, all the visible flexy stuff on the surface.
This is the one size fits all, design benefit of AirPods.
They don't insert into the ear, they sit on it.
Specifically it rests in a little nook called the concha up against the pierceable tragus and anti-tragus.
Here's what I thought was cool.
I read a few papers from plastic surgeons who reconstruct the outer ear and they found differences in auricle length between adults of almost a centimeter.
And they're not just different sizes, they might be as uniquely shaped as your fingerprints.
Forensic scientists have been testing ear biometrics as a way to identify people for years and like, "what the heck I didn't think I was gonna go this far down the rabbit hole investigating this script."
The source linked in the description.
If I keep nerding out on this, we're gonna get way too off track.
These differences in ear shapes and sizes mean that some headphones are gonna fit some people better than others, and we know so because of certain hearing aids, which sit in the same little ear nook as your AirPods.
Plus, your left and right ear aren't totally identical.
It's completely normal for our bodies to not have perfect symmetry whether that's accumulation of soft tissue, leg length or our ears.
So your left ear might be a little bigger than your right ear which makes it seem like one of the headphones is falling out more often than the other.
So are your ears actually too big?
No, it's just that everyone's ears are different, and yours are beautiful.
The last thing is movement.
You wouldn't be surprised if headphones fell out during exercise, but it's frustrating when it happens while you're sitting still.
Check this out, if you put your fingers in front of your tragus and open or close your jaw, you can feel something flex.
This is called the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, the pivot point between the temple and jaw, which we call the mandible.
While it might seem like the jaw hinges way lower on the skull, its joint is actually right next to the ear.
That motion might not rip the headphones out of your ear, but it's definitely a nudge which ultimately makes them falling out more often.
Here's some food for thought.
What I've noticed with my junior high students is that if you give them the opportunity, they'll wear their AirPods all day.
They literally forget they're wearing headphones sometimes.
I wonder if how easily this product integrates with our lives makes it seem like every time one falls out, it surprises us and seems like a big deal.
Or maybe you're just freaking out since you spent so much money and you realize that it's supposed to fall out.
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