How AirPods Changed Social Class

Cover Photo by Daniel Romero via Unsplash

When Apple first unveiled the AirPod in 2016, the world was forever altered. Never again would those long, stringy, cumbersome earbuds disguise the money we had or didn’t have; never again would they conceal our spending preferences.

Sure, wireless listening devices had certainly been in the market long before 2016. Take the Moto Hint, for example, which was available to the public as early as 2014. However, Apple’s ability to lure in consumers and convert them into devoted followers is something other tech companies have simply not been able to replicate. (Apple’s market capitalization currently lies around $1.655 trillion. That’s larger than the 2018 Gross Domestic Product figure for each Mexico, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.)

The memory of the widely beloved on-ear headphones from Beats by Dr. Dre might be lingering in your mind. Weren’t those equally powerful conveyors of socioeconomic status? It’s not uncommon for Beats products to cost upwards of $200 or even $300. I would argue that the difference here lies in the visual. Beats are showy on purpose and ostentatious by nature, available in colors like “citrus red” and “club yellow.” AirPods, on the other hand, are designed to fly under the radar. They are easily concealed by long hair or a hoodie and available only in white. The difference is that when you drop $249 on a pair of AirPod Pros, you’re spending money on something that most people probably won’t even see.


Perhaps you’re thinking that the brand and model of the smartphone connected to the wireless device might be a better indicator of wealth. However, a smartphone is oftentimes a far more major investment than a pair of wireless earbuds. In a world where smartphones span our professional and personal lives, it usually makes sense to splurge on a reliable, capable piece of hardware. For many people, indulging in a pair of wireless earbuds simply can’t be justified in the same way. They can’t capture pictures from your vacation, can’t send Snapchat streaks, and can’t share memes about The Office with your work friends. 

AirPods, then, are all about convenience. When you buy a pair of AirPods, you’re spending money on something that does more or less the same thing as a product you’re already given for free. Struggling to untangle a pair of plug-in earbuds might be the supreme first-world problem. These wiry creatures might not be the most glamorous things in the world, but they get the job done – don’t they?

In my mind, AirPods have put a new spin on the way I look at social class. They’ve made the “subtle flex” into the ultimate flex. They’ve created a way for kids who can afford them to drown out their teachers, parents, and professors with Post Malone or Lil Uzi Vert. They’ve made us strive for something drastically different from the ornate displays of privilege we once revered. 

Do you think AirPods have revolutionized the socioeconomic hierarchy? Let us know in the poll below!

Cover Photo by Daniel Romero via Unsplash

  • Have AirPods really changed social class?

    • definitely
    • maybe a tiny bit
    • this whole post is an exaggeration


Written by Megan Pontin

Enthusiastic word-collector, avid pancake-consumer, and experienced hammock-lounger. Student at Cornell University.

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