Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

March 22, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CELL PHONES....Somewaterytart on cell phones:

I have this thing where I get really irritated by people who talk on the phone in the computer areas and the library. Because the thing is, everyone can hear them and their stupid conversations. This applies everywhere, really. I admire the employees of the many campus Starbucks locations, who have taken to writing threatening messages to would-be in-line phone users on the chalk boards about how they'll be refused service (empty threats, of course, but the point is made)....The mini grocery store I stop at for water on my walks with Ciara has a sign taped to the counter that says, "yeah, we all think your cell phone is really neat. Now turn it off."

Hear hear (so to speak). In fact, speaking of speaking, that's my real beef with people on cell phones: why do you guys ALWAYS TALK SO LOUD? If cell phone conversations were conducted at normal volumes they wouldn't be so bad. Cell reception has improved a lot in the past decade, but for some reason cell users don't quite seem to have figured this out yet.

Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

They talk loud because they can't hear. Blame Nokia and Motorola for not providing enough feedback.

Posted by: treetop on March 22, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

It's called the "cell yell," and no matter what else the yeller may be saying, you can safely translate it to, "Hey look at me!"

Posted by: Jim Strain on March 22, 2006 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

You always talk so loud, because the technology isn't there to hear a little bit of your voice coming back through the line. That effect, which has a name, but you'll have to look it up, works on land line, but the delay that comes from a cellphone would make your voice sound like an echo (something that happens on a landline when you have a bad connection) and this would make talking on a cell phone very difficult. Before the sound of your own voice was introduced into the land lines, people talked louder too. You can't really hear how loud you are. Or at least have nothing to gauge it by.

Posted by: DC1974 on March 22, 2006 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Blame that on their iPods.

:)

Posted by: Name on March 22, 2006 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

I think the reason people are still so loud is that cell phones often cover the speaker's ear, such that they can't hear themselves as well as they could normally and modulate the volume. I could be wrong though.

Posted by: rashad on March 22, 2006 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

I read somewhere (I can't find the article now) that it has to do with not enough feedback from the cell phone. People can't hear themselves speaking as well as they can on a regular phone, so they unconsciously speak louder.

Posted by: Jason on March 22, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

I ride a train home from work, and yes, I sometimes talk on the phone while I'm on the train. You know what? I'll gladly stop just as soon as they make everyone be silent on the train. But when I'm being subjected to babies crying, people listening to their headphones so loud I can hear the song from 20 feet away, religious nuts telling me I'm going to hell, etc., I'm going to feel free to talk on my phone.

Posted by: MDS on March 22, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

If people want to make their private conversations public property, take them up on it! It's great fun to participate in these calls, treating them as participatory public theater. Feel free to critique the new boyfriend, complain about the dinner choices, or argue against their political views. After all, if they wanted privacy, they wouldn't be shouting out their phone conversations in Starbucks.

Posted by: Paul Gottlieb on March 22, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

I've got a question. Would the quality of the sound on a cell phone be improved if the signal were directed through a regular handset phone?

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on March 22, 2006 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty sure this can solved through a complex system of tax incentives and voluntary programs.

Posted by: bill on March 22, 2006 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

Women in bathroom stalls talking on their cells while they relieve their bladders...and...shudder...worse.

Appalling. Will never, ever get used to it.

Posted by: shortstop on March 22, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

NPR ran a bit about this. Part of the problem is that the cell phone earpiece doesn't transmit your end of the conversation, and so you can't tell if you are talking loud enough for the other person to hear. With a landline you hear your own voice in the earpiece and this gives you the sense that the other person can hear you too.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4229967

Posted by: Phil on March 22, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the deal:

If someone is talking on a cell phone in a situation where it would be appropriate for someone to be talking to a person across the table, like a restaurant or coffee shop, I don't have an issue with it. If you can't hear both sides of the conversation, it's your problem, not theirs. If they're talking much louder than a normal conversation, that's a bit different.

Conversely, if someone shouldn't be talking to someone next to them, as in a theater, or many libraries, then cell phone use should be out, too.

I leave my phone on when I'm at a movie, in case one of my kids needs me. I leave it on quiet mode, and leave the theater to pick up the call. It's that easy.

BTW, a phone should ring, not play some silly tune, but that's just my personal beef.

Those new ear phones are weird. Walking down the road, talking to trees. It's amazing how a small piece of plastic can divide normal people from crazy ones.

Posted by: tbrosz on March 22, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, a phone should ring, not play some silly tune, but that's just my personal beef.

My cell rings like an old rotary phone. I enjoy the looks of bewilderment from other people on the El when it rings.

They look even more bewildered when they hear me whisper, "I'll call you back. I'm on the train." Nobody else seems to have thought of this option.

Posted by: shortstop on March 22, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty sure this can solved through a complex system of tax incentives and voluntary programs.

lol--Bill is so my boyfriend.

Posted by: theorajones on March 22, 2006 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

DC1947: "You always talk so loud, because the technology isn't there to hear a little bit of your voice coming back through the line."

I bet that's right. I worked telemarketing as a 20something and they turned the earpieces down to a whisper to get us all loud and aggressive sounding. Worked like a charm.

But (and I'm no electrical engineer) I bet I could run a wire directly from the microphone to the speaker and solve that delayed feedback problem pretty easily.

tbrosz: "It's amazing how a small piece of plastic can divide normal people from crazy ones."

If only.

Posted by: brent on March 22, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

DC1947: "You always talk so loud, because the technology isn't there to hear a little bit of your voice coming back through the line."

I bet that's right. I worked telemarketing as a 20something and they turned the earpieces down to a whisper to get us all loud and aggressive sounding. Worked like a charm.

But (and I'm no electrical engineer) I bet I could run a wire directly from the microphone to the speaker and solve that delayed feedback problem pretty easily.

tbrosz: "It's amazing how a small piece of plastic can divide normal people from crazy ones."

If only.

Posted by: brent on March 22, 2006 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Why do some people have to be such technophobe luddites? Man, I'm a big fan of leftist social reforms, but why do they always have to come with idiotic social control tendencies? "Oh, the way other people behave just soooo pisses me off..."

By all means, there should be cell-phone laws to reign in people's lack of etiquette. Let's reinstate prohibition while we're at it, and institute a national censorship board to review films before they're released so we can keep the lower classes clean and neat; viewing so much sex & violence just can't be good for them.

OK, Kevin, I know you're not really saying all this stuff, but I just get irked by otherwise intelligent people who are always complaining about iPods and cell phones and PDAs and other various things.

Y'all need to ask yourselves, seriously: do you think there should be a law about it, and if so, would such a law be constitutional? If not, or you find yourself doing cartwheels to rationalize it, then you're wrong and you should just shut up and accept that other people are going to behave in ways that annoy you sometimes. I'm sure there are things you do that are just as much an affront to their intuition as to "how people should behave."

Posted by: Adam Piontek on March 22, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

I used to go the local public library almost every week day to spend my lunch break reading. The library is also a hang out for many homeless people. There are many people speaking on cell phones at the library and I confront them, telling them the library is an inappropriate place to have telephone conversations. These cell phone users are usually of three types: professionals using the library as an office, slackers using the library as a hang out, and elderly people. The professionals become quite belligerant when confronted. The slackers slink away. The elderly seem confused and are not apologetic. The homeless are always polite and quiet, although they do snore and smell.

One time a slacker type was speaking quite loudly and I wrote down his cell phone number as he was giving it out before confronting him. When I told him to not use his cell phone the homeless applauded. I called him a couple of months later, from a public phone, and asked him if he was still using his cell phone in the library. That was worth a chuckle.

What is most annoying, however, is the library staff, including security, do nothing to discourage cell phone use, leaving it up to the clients to stifle this behavior.

Posted by: Hostile on March 22, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

It's amazing how a small piece of plastic can divide normal people from crazy ones.

I've long that's the real reason we don't like cell-talkers: we have a deeply ingrained notion that people talking to themselves are looney and therefore dangerous. Gives us the heebie-jeebies.

That said, what really drives me up a wall is the "walkie-talkie" feature ("Beep-dee-beep!"). If you're on a job site, great, but the darn thing is a cell phone, so why not use it as such? Bad enough that you're talking to yourself; we don't need to hear a disembodied voice on top of it.

Posted by: JPfeff on March 22, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Cell phone call quality has been deteriorating almost continuously since 1995. The technology exists to make digital calls sound as good as the old analog, but it takes up more bandwidth = fewer calls per cell tower, so the cell companies dial it down. Everyone in Europe says GSM is better, but when my cell company went from the older digital to GSM call quality got even worse.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on March 22, 2006 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Loud conversations in inappropriate places are annoying enough, but now, with the bluetooth earpieces, I keep encountering people walking down the street talking to themselves. It is getting harder and harder to spot the schizophrenics. This is especially disturbing for me since I work a block or two from a major train station and right across the street from a homeless shelter. Plenty of schizophrenics wandering the streets and plenty of wireless headset cell phone users.

Posted by: Majun on March 22, 2006 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

I was in Singapore a few months ago and people would cover their mouths with their hands or with a piece of paper to dilute the sound. It seemed to work because the public transportation was very quiet.

Posted by: lou on March 22, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

What is most annoying, however, is the library staff, including security, do nothing to discourage cell phone use, leaving it up to the clients to stifle this behavior.

Uh, Hostile, does it occur to you that if the library staff doesn't do anything about it, that means you shouldn't do anything about it, either? Maybe the library has decided that it's OK for people to talk on their cell phones. It's not your place to decide otherwise.

Posted by: MDS on March 22, 2006 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Adam: Y'all need to ask yourselves, seriously: do you think there should be a law about it, and if so, would such a law be constitutional? If not, or you find yourself doing cartwheels to rationalize it, then you're wrong and you should just shut up and accept that other people are going to behave in ways that annoy you sometimes.

That's a curious notion: that if it's legal, or should be, no one can bitch about it. Or, taken to its logical end, that only laws and not customs and mores determine socially acceptable behavior.

You define it as a matter of technology acceptance; we call it a matter of manners.

Posted by: shortstop on March 22, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Adam

I don't think Kevin, or anyone here is trying to get a law passed. We're just bitching about a grating lack of civility. It's interesting that you lump it here with general complaints aobut handheld electronics, when it seems to me that the beef here is with how people behave when using these devices. Dude, the technology is great, but having pedople yell into my ear half conversations that have nothing to do with me, just because I have to stand next to them in a public place, that's irritating. So is driving around downtown at night (small/medium size college town)and being scared shitless by undergrad college students who are all driving with one hand and half their attention on the wheel because they are talking to someone, and likely half buzzed too. That's the only arena that I'd like to see the law step into in all of this.

I had never thought about the lack of echo of the speaker's voice. I'm certain that's part of the problem. I wonder if that'll change when we have a whole generatio that's never talked on a land line.

Posted by: URK on March 22, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

You define it as a matter of technology acceptance; we call it a matter of manners. Posted by: shortstop on March 22, 2006 at 1:27 PM

I have to disagree. I've had plenty of occasions where I with someone and we encounter another person talking on the cell phone and my companion will turn to me, "Why are they so loud?"

But I'll be honest, nine times out of ten the conversation is no louder than the conversations I hear between people standing next to each other in these same settings.

I have to wonder if the perception of loudness is real or if there's a little bit of social psychological effect here. People have accepted the idea that "cell phone conversations are louder than normal and rude". Now their subconcious taylors their perception of actual conversations as "much louder than normal".

Or it could be the case that people remember the cell phone conversations that were loud and rude better than they do the ones that were not.

Or most likely a little of both are at operation here. But I hesitate to make the blanket statement that the majority of cell phone conversations are any louder than regular ones. For all you know, even if the conversation is very loud, the people speaking might shout at each other even when they are standing side-by-side. And I've seen that happen on plenty occasions too.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on March 22, 2006 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

The issue of not enough feedback is well put, and I hadn't thought about that.

I've always thought the problem was something related but a little different. When we're in a loud place, it's hard to hear the person on the other end of the line. I'm talking normal, street-level noise loud, not concert-level loud. We forget that in those circumstances, it's actually fairly easy for the person on the other end to hear us. We have a hard time hearing them, so we raise our voices instinctually.

That said, the feedback problem seems even more true now that I think about it. Is it just too hard to build in a good feedback system with modern phone sizes? I.e., we're more concerned with smallness than with ease of use?

Posted by: jhupp on March 22, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

I have asked library security to respond to cell phone users, and they do ask them to step outside.

I said above the homeless applauded when I asked a cell phone user to take it outside. Other library users also applauded.

I am pretty sure it is common knowledge one is supposed to be quiet in a library. If one is too timid to express that knowledge, it becomes lost and forgotten.

When children are playing on the apartment steps, I do not ask them to be quiet.

Posted by: Hostile on March 22, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

My cell rings like an old rotary phone. I enjoy the looks of bewilderment from other people on the El when it rings. Posted by: shortstop

My plays "London Calling." Sometimes I let it ring long enough to get to the first verse.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 22, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

I know no one's trying to get a law passed - I acknowledged that. I know people just like to bitch and kvetch about other people's behavior. I, likewise, have a right to bitch back. So I did. Appreciate the irony or not, I don't care...

Posted by: Adam Piontek on March 22, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz - "If you can't hear both sides of the conversation, it's your problem, not theirs."

Actually, I believe I've seen that studies show the brain has a harder time tuning out conversations when it can only hear one of the participants. It has something to do with feeling a need to fill in the silences with some logical response, so you get sucked into actively listening much more than you would if you were overhearing two people speak with each other.

Posted by: farmgirl on March 22, 2006 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

It wouldn't be so bad if they were discussing some useful corporate insider information I could make a killing with.

Posted by: Scrooge McDuck on March 22, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

If you've had much contact with autistic people, it's hard not to notice a strong likeness to people talking on cellphones in public places. It has to do with the connection we're all expected to acknowledge when we are with each other even if we don't know each other.

The severely autistic are by nature cut off from that sense of community, sense of the other. But the relentless cellphone users are behaving as though giving in to narcissism so severe that the other has ceased to matter. Jeez! Imagine having to live with them! I don't like people who rudely ignore the existence of others for their own convenience, breaking the sense of community which exists among normal people connected by being present in the same place at the same time, playing by the same rules -- even less when they're in a library, or concert hall, or movie theater ...

Posted by: PW on March 22, 2006 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Personally, I think we should all walk down the street shouting into bullhorns. It would raise everyone's quality of life. But I bet all you anti-bullhorn luddites would just complain.

Posted by: Mornington Crescent on March 22, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

I sometimes carry a tape recorder which I will hold up to people speaking too loud on their cell phones next to me. How can they complain? They're already broadcasting their call to the entire world....

Posted by: Stefan on March 22, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Great burgers at the two Red Mills in Seattle - Also have a great NO CELL policy.

The magnificent Seattle Public Library downtown on 4th does not allow cell useage - Nor does the very beautiful restored Public Library in Portland, OR.

Do believe that Vaseline should be sold with Cells, so we can help the inconsiderate user with proper insertion of the tool into the appropriate orifice.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on March 22, 2006 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II: My plays "London Calling." Sometimes I let it ring long enough to get to the first verse.

Damn, baby. I'd sing along with that. I...LIVE BY THE RIVER!!!

Then people could rightly bitch about how loud I am.

Dr. Morpheus: But I hesitate to make the blanket statement that the majority of cell phone conversations are any louder than regular ones.

I'd hesitate, too. My complaints of incivility were directed at the ones who truly are screaming. Don't much like it when people scream back in forth in person, either. In other words, it's the behavior, not the technology, we're bitchin' about.

Posted by: shortstop on March 22, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

MDS, thank you for bringing up the idea that library staff do not consider cell phone usage in the library a problem or nuisance. I do not frequent the library for lunch like I used to, but next time I am there and if someone is using a cell phone I will ask the librarian what is the policy before taking it upon myself to enforce any code of library etiquette.

Posted by: Hostile on March 22, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

A recent British study sheds a lot of light on why the phenomenon is so annoying. The problem is essentially neurological. Our brains are hard-wired to become alert to the sound of a human voice speaking, but we are also able to tune out extraneous voices--say at a cocktail party--and focus on just that of the other person we're talking to. The study showed that hearing another person respond to the initial voice is the trigger that allows us to make the foreground-background distinction.

This same mechanism is what makes overheard cell phone conversations so irritating. You only hear one side, so it's very difficult to tune it out. Your brain keeps kicking it back into the foreground of your attention.

Point being, it's not really the volume of the person speaking--even if they're being relatively quiet, it's still going to be hard to ignore. Better feedback won't really fix this.

I'm trying to find a link for the story--pretty sure it was in the NYTimes science pages in the last week or so. Anyone else see it?

Posted by: DrBB on March 22, 2006 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

I'd hesitate, too. My complaints of incivility were directed at the ones who truly are screaming. Don't much like it when people scream back in forth in person, either. In other words, it's the behavior, not the technology, we're bitchin' about. Posted by: shortstop on March 22, 2006 at 1:55 PM

I understand, I guess because I can easily tune out loud conversation I've never considered it a problem. I grew up in a relatively large family and we were all very loud. Consequently I had to learn to do homework or anything else that required concentration when there were a half dozen loud conversations taking place at the same time.

Music, on the other hand, I cannot tune out. And it's worse if it's just on the edge of my hearing because then my subconscious seems to work harder at listening to it.

But I've never asked anyone to turn down their music even if I can hear them through their headphones because I know I've got a lower tolerance than most other people. I'd be the rude person, not them.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on March 22, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

You want cell phones banned in grocery lines and then you want me to take your other pet peeves seriously too?

I love the small grocery store owner who seems to think his store is a silence-is-golden holy site like a cathedral and goes so far as to chase away cell-using customers with rude signs. None of the small groceries in my neighborhood can afford to be chasing away customers, but I guess they aren't getting tithe offerings acompanying their disbursment of (holy) water to joggers.

Posted by: ChetBob on March 22, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Great burgers at the two Red Mills in Seattle - Also have a great NO CELL policy.

Best burgers in town.

The magnificent Seattle Public Library downtown on 4th does not allow cell useage . . . Posted by: thethirdPaul

You must be speaking in the historic past tense and refering to the gorgeour Carnagie Library torn down in 1957, Beauty, eh? and not the monstrosity "designed" by the "architect" of the moment, Rem Koolhaas.

No wonder you moved to Portland!

Posted by: Jeff II on March 22, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

I talk on a cell phone if I'm in a place where "talking" is appropriate. On trains, and empty places in the university library. But I do make sure that I am being no more loud than the people around me.

1) Cell phone users need to learn that the people they are talking to can hear them just fine, no extra loudness necessary.

2) If the cell-phone talker isn't any louder than other conversations, what's the beef? Ya'll complainers sound like Andy Rooney or something.

3) Loud conversations that others can overhear easily, suck. How about teenage girls on the subway. Headphones were invented for just that.

There'll be a technological fix providing more voice feedback for cell phones, and 80% of the problem will go away, leaving only those who were always obnoxious anyway.

Posted by: luci on March 22, 2006 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

That is extremely interesting, DrBB. Thanks for posting that.

Posted by: shortstop on March 22, 2006 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Many of you are not old enough to remember the days of Long Distance of yore - Look at old movies of the two piece telephone - Ane of the Front Page movies (and there were four with Lemmon/Matthau or Grant/Russell being the best) will do.
The older people thought they had to yell into the mouthpiece whenever they were using Long Distance.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on March 22, 2006 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

If cell phones are ever allowed on airplanes, and I happen to be sitting next to a user, I plan to start reading aloud from whatever book I'm looking at. Then I'll stop flying.

Posted by: RSA on March 22, 2006 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

I read sometime back about a performance artist in NYC who would take notes on the cell phone conversations going on around him. When the cell phone user ended the call, the artist approached the user and read all the personal information that he had gathered. It may not stop everyone, but I would think more than one of the loud users thought twice the next time they carried on a cell phone conversation in public.

Posted by: HeartlessB on March 22, 2006 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

If cell phones are ever allowed on airplanes, and I happen to be sitting next to a user, I plan to start reading aloud from whatever book I'm looking at. Then I'll stop flying. Posted by: RSA

What we may see is a return to a segregation based on annoying private/public behavioir as in the days of "smoking" and "non-smoking" sections of an airplane. Or we could resort to Steve Martin's ploy from Let's Get Small if they aren't wise enough to do this.

"Mind if I smoke?"

"No. Mind if I fart? Gave it up for year once. Gained a lot of weight."

Posted by: Jeff II on March 22, 2006 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Um whomever added 27 years to my age (from DC1974 to DC1947) please stop.

I'm not sure this is as easy as "running a wire from mic to the speaker".

Here's the thing. I'm deaf in one ear, so talking on the phone is already a little world in which the outside world pretty much doesn't exist.

Traditional phones (you know, the ones that plug into the jack) take advantage of a relay of your voice (that is actually happening in the phone LINE.

Cell phones don't do this. And neither do any phones that are made for VoIP. If it was as easy as running a wire, my Cisco IP desk phone could easily handle that. Understandably, if you use VoIP with a traditional phone -- it's DEFINITELY not going to do this. (As the relay from the phone wire would be heard, no set up required!)

Not a telephony expert, I don't know all the engineering reasons why. I am just speaking from experience. And I can tell you that I talk louder on my work phone (IP) than I do on my home phone.

Posted by: DC1974 on March 22, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

People say they can't hear me if I use a normal volume. Mostly, I try not to use it around other people.

Posted by: Scorpio on March 22, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, people who talk too loudly on cell phones are annoying and rude. But what is with the self-righteous, condescending moral outrage? I could relate to it several years ago, when cell phones were far less common and did express a certain status-conscious kind of person. But now? They're ubiquitious, which is part of the problem.

If someone is doign something rude/annoying in public a nice smile and a "could you keep it down, please" will generally suffice. Let us reserve our moral outrage for public activities that actually do endanger/hurt other people, like parents who threaten or hit their kids in public or people who talk on cell phones and drive dangerously. But loud-talking on cell phones? C'mon, chill out already. It's really not worth this much energy.

Seriously, the worst way to let someone know that you think what they're doing is unintentionally rude is to be intentionally rude to them. Don't miss the irony of your own rude and snide behavior. It is not good manners to respond to someone else's bad manners with your own bad manners. Same rule applies to someone who is, for instance, smoking in a public place where smoking is permitted. If the smoke is bothering you try being nice about before copping an attitude. I think you'll find that kindess and politeness will go a lot futher than sneers. It'll make you a happier, nicer person to be around as well.

Yes, I know I just painted a big ol' target on myself and invited some serious wrath. But it had to be said.

Posted by: heddache on March 22, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

I saw a guy yesterday with a hands-free cell phone. He not only talked preposterously loud, he continued using hand gestures like he was a Neopolitan arguing politics over dinner.

Or maybe he was just a nutcase standing in the corner.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on March 22, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

That effect, which has a name, but you'll have to look it up

Sidetone.

Posted by: Claude Shannon on March 22, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Jeff II: My plays "London Calling." Sometimes I let it ring long enough to get to the first verse."

-I'm with shortstop here. In fact, i'd probably have to have a different ringtone because this would make it to tempting to not even answer the phone. After all, this is the title track to the album that saved my life in high school.

Of course, whatever ringtone I had, i'd try to remember not to answer while driving and NOT TO YELL IN PUBLIC PLACES. ahem.

Adam:, you said
" know no one's trying to get a law passed - I acknowledged that."

-I guess I missed that. But you did frame your complaint by saying that our complaints only had relevence if the behavior we objected to was or could be illegal. That's just silly. do you never complain about anything except to say it should be illegal? do you really like and accept absolutely every behavior or event you're faced with as long as it's legal? yow!

"I know people just like to bitch and kvetch about other people's behavior. I, likewise, have a right to bitch back. So I did. Appreciate the irony or not, I don't care..."

Well, care or not, I think you're kind of missing the point. It's all about appropriateness of venue. This is a comment thread on a blog, so in general, bitching back and forth is welcome and appropriate. if you're here, you're reading it, by choice. it takes active and intentional behavior to engage this bitching. On the other hand, if i'm in a public space, my acts and intentions have nothing to do with hearing other people's cell conversations. so, if i were having such a conversation I'd want to keep it out of other people's faces, and I want the same from other folks. Simple consideration really, not a matter of what anyone has "the right" to do.

In fact, it's interesting that you're talking here abbout what people "have the right" to do. I mean sure, everyone has the right to do this, but civility is about much smaller and more mundane matters than what we have the right to do. that doesn't mean it's unimportant tho, it's part of what keeps the wheels greased in a civil society. Having the right to do something doesn't mean that it's a good thing to do or that it's a necessary thing to do all of the time. I think that if you see talking loud on a cell phone in public as a "right" you're trivializing the idea really, even if it does fall broadly into the category of things that shouldn't be forbidden because laws forbidding it would be too intrusive. It's like insisting that you have the right to adress everybody you meet as "sluggo." sure, it's within you're rights, but does it help? is it good behavior?

and, I know, I must sound like a humerless geek to you because I'm ignoring the "irony" that you see in our bitching about your bitching about what we're bitching about here. But agian, it's all aobut appropriateness of venue. and, it's not like my arguing with you aobut this means that i'm annoyed by your annoyence. it means that I don't think you get it.

Posted by: URK on March 22, 2006 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

I have an idea: we need little cell-phone isolation closets. There could be one on every corner and in the lobbies of big buildings, and when someone needed to make a cell phone call in a public place, they could go into one of these isolation closets and shut the door, and the sound-proof walls would protect us all from overhearing their completely inane conversations.

My husband says that that was the original idea of phone booths--they were not invented to give the caller privacy, they were invented to protect the rest of us from having to overhear the caller's half of a conversation. Too bad they were a victim of the War on Drugs.

Posted by: Cal Gal on March 22, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

A sure fire way to make this stop is to stand next to the person and take notes of what they say.

They will either, turn away and whisper, or simply leave, which is the best of all results if they are ahead of you in line.

Posted by: celcus on March 22, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

I saw a guy yesterday with a hands-free cell phone. He not only talked preposterously loud, he continued using hand gestures like he was a Neopolitan arguing politics over dinner.

Or maybe he was just a nutcase standing in the corner. Posted by: Jeffrey Davis

This is how I imagine T-Bone in public. Did that guy have a noticable stain on his crotch, too.

Everytime I see someone using a hands free headset I think the same thing - Do you realize how ridiculous you look. Hands free set-ups are the speaker phones of the cellular world - pissant aggrandizement.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 22, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, here's a summary of the study I cited above:

Andrew Monk and his team of researchers from the University of York have found that people instinctively listen more attentively to conversations where they can only hear one side. This additional attention means you can't ignore the conversation, and the tension created by the need to hear the other side means it rapidly starts to rankle.

The study explicitly compensated for relative volume levels and found that loudness was not the significant factor. There's a more detailed analysis here and an NPR story here.

Posted by: DrBB on March 22, 2006 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

heddache

I think what you're seeing as sef righteous moral outrage is more the side effect of generally being polite and saying little or nothing aobut annoying and increasingly ubiquitous behavior. We blwo off steam on a blog thread, or look for explanaitons like sidetone echo. etc. keeps us sane.

Posted by: URK on March 22, 2006 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

I have an idea: we need little cell-phone isolation closets. There could be one on every corner and in the lobbies of big buildings, and when someone needed to make a cell phone call in a public place, they could go into one of these isolation closets and shut the door, and the sound-proof walls would protect us all from overhearing their completely inane conversations. Posted by: Cal Gal

Oh Cal Gal, that's so mid-20th Century. I think they used to be called phone booths.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 22, 2006 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Walking down the street holding animated conversations with persons or beings not present used to be a fairly reliable indicator of a street psychotic off his meds. Now lots of people fit that profile. But I still find it hard to get past that initial impression.

Dunno if Neal Stephenson's term "gargoyle" fits, but it's an analogous phenomenon. I know a lot of guys at the MIT Media Lab aren't too keen on that term but I'm still rooing for it.

Posted by: DrBB on March 22, 2006 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

So I was sitting in the service dept lounge having my car worked on a while back and this guy across from me pulls out his cell. Calls his lawyer and asks him if he (the lawyer) can provide a referral for a divorce attorney.

"This is all in strictest confidence of course," he says.

Next thing I know, all of us sitting there--maybe half a dozen people--are getting all the details about why this guy wants to divorce his wife. Emerges they're quite wealthy and she's been off hiking in Nepal with their kid and keeps extending the return date. He thinks there's something going on between her and her Sherpa. This and other details emerge as he goes on bending the lawyer's ear for about 15-20 minutes before he gets to what was really bugging him in the relationship.

The biggest problem, he says, is her indiscretion--it pisses him off the way she keeps blabbing about their marital problems with her brother.

It's not fair, he says, that she should be discussing their most private, intimate lives with somebody else.

Posted by: DrBB on March 22, 2006 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, Jeff II, you don't get it.

PHONE BOOTHS were 20th century.

ISOLATION CLOSETS are 21st century.

It's all in the framing, baby.

Posted by: Cal Gal on March 22, 2006 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

Last week I stopped at a truck stop to use the rest room. I went in the stall and a friendly voice in the stall next to mine said "Hey, how you doing?" I said "What" and he says louder "I said Hey how you doing?"

I answered "Pretty good I guess" and he asks "How's traffic?" I tried to answer him back but he interupted me - he says loudly "I'll have to call you back. Some homo in the stall next to me keeps trying to talk to me!"

So, yeah, I hate goddamn cell phones.

Posted by: Tripp on March 22, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

DrBB and Tripp, I'm wiping tears from my eyes...thanks; I needed that laugh.

Posted by: shortstop on March 22, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Last week I stopped at a truck stop to use the rest room. I went in the stall and a friendly voice in the stall next to mine said "Hey, how you doing?" I said "What" and he says louder "I said Hey how you doing?"

I answered "Pretty good I guess" and he asks "How's traffic?" I tried to answer him back but he interupted me - he says loudly "I'll have to call you back. Some homo in the stall next to me keeps trying to talk to me!"

So, yeah, I hate goddamn cell phones. Posted by: Tripp

Second laugh out loud at work moment in less than 15 minutes. Tripp, you are making this up, right? "Some homo . . ." Shades of junior high dissing.

Brings to mind two movie seens, both set in the men's room. Jeff Bridges standing at the urnial at the gas station in Starman, and Tom Arnold asking for a "courtesy flush" in The Spy That Shagged Me.

I've got co-workers who wear their cordless headsets into the john and continue to talk to their customers. Some people . . .

Posted by: Jeff II on March 22, 2006 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

The US has terrible mobile phone service. Mostly, it has to do with the fact that the US mobile providers use far too few towers to provide service. Adding insult to injury, a great deal of the world's cities are made up of five story buildings (on average) and this happens to be an excellent height for mobile telephone towers which makes it much cheaper to install them than in the US. The US mobile telephone system, which developed relatively early, was originally designed to be analog and as such required a relatively low density of towers. When the providers switched over to digital, they grafted the new system onto the old one. Unfortunately, while digital is a much more efficient system, it requires individual "cells" to be closer to one another for high quality service. Since mobile service has already become a commodity in terms of price competition, no one wants to invest in better service which will perhaps not be amortizable.

GSM in Europe is better, not just because it's GSM, but because the infrastructure developed differently.

Cheers,

Alan Tomlinson

Posted by: Alan Tomlinson on March 22, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

making this up?

Who, me? Well, I guess I have been known to stretch the truth a little bit, but only for a good joke.

Posted by: Tripp on March 22, 2006 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I guess I have been known to stretch the truth a little bit, but only for a good joke.

Nothing in the world wrong with that. As the poem goes:

Time comes into it.
Say it. Say it.
The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

Posted by: shortstop on March 22, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

I think it might be psychological, related to the geometry of the phones. When we talk to a person, or a group, in person, it's at least arguable that we have a sense of our voice projecting out in something of a cone, and since they're far enough to be in the cone, we can talk in a normal voice. When we talk into an old-fashioned phone mouthpiece, it's right at the tip of that cone. But when we talk into a cell phone, it's off to the side, and it's just hard to believe that it can pick up noises from inside the cone. Just a guess.

Posted by: Carl Manaster on March 22, 2006 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

In the restaurant where I tend bar on an on-call basis, we have a sign prominently hung, which reads "Please turn off your cell phone. Nothing's that important!"

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on March 22, 2006 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

I've enjoyed the dozen or so various explanations for why people can't tell they're talking so loud on a cell phone. The fact is people know that they're generally louder on cell phones, and it's only stupidity, willfulness or sheer rudeness to not talk more quietly anyway. You only have to try it once or twice to figure out the other person can still hear you anyway.

Posted by: Alexander Wolfe on March 22, 2006 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

In the restaurant where I tend bar on an on-call basis, we have a sign prominently hung, which reads "Please turn off your cell phone. Nothing's that important!" Posted by: Donald from Hawaii

Donald, which island do you live on? Or, as they might say in Brandon, on which of the Hawaiian Islands do you reside?

I will be on Kauai in August with a business side trip to Maui for a day. Have been to either in 20 years.

Posted by: JeffII on March 22, 2006 at 11:42 PM | PERMALINK

Cell phones seem to be a technology that has an extremely useful but specialized function, that wrongly got widely adopted. They are obviously an appropriate tool for emergency workers and other people whose jobs require them to be on call. For everyone else, the only improvement over land lines is that you can talk on the phone more, which maybe is not such a good thing.

Its also remarkable that people will accept poor connections, suddenly being cut off, a byzantine billing system, and an amazingly un-user friendly interface with cell phones that they would never accept with land lines. I wonder if this is a gee-whiz gadgetry thing that will wear off eventually.

People have pointed out that there isn't much difference between talking on a cell phone while driving and driving while drunk, but the same is true for walking as well, people trying to walk and talk tend to walk too slowly and to suddenly veer off in the wrong direction when you try to pass them.

Posted by: Mr. Watson on March 23, 2006 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

I read somewhere that the reason people talk so loud on cellphones has to do with the delay. Because the feedback from the other side of the line is not immediate it gives the feeling of talking to someon standing 70m apart from you. And that's why people shout into cellphones as if the other person is standing on the other side of a footballfield.

It's a nice theory anyway...

Posted by: ooch on March 23, 2006 at 8:00 AM | PERMALINK

I work in an office building on the edge of George Washington University in downtown D.C. We regularly stand at the window at count the college students who are NOT talking on their cell phones.

Posted by: wally on March 23, 2006 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Cellphones have made acceptable what would once have been viewed as a sign of dementia - talking to oneself in public. The commenter who feels free to keep chatting on their phone as long as there are screaming babies and religious fanatics making unwelcome sounds on the commuter train tells us volumes about his/her relative maturity and rationality.

Posted by: topper on March 23, 2006 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

Didn't the psychologists figure out why people are so much more annoyed by cell phone users than by people who are listening to music or talking loudly face to face with another person?

Because of the whole disembodied thing. Seeing and hearing someone speaking to (what seems like) no one is mentally disturbing and causes anxiety.

I work in a library and am itching to carry around one of those old fashioned water squirters ala Groucho Marx and just hose all the cell phone jerks. I tell them to please turn off their phones while in the library and they just look at me like I just asked them to chop off a finger.

People simply do NOT need to be in constant instantaneous communication with one another, unless you have some kind of medical situation (do you have a note from a doctor?) Seriously, this constant communication is ruining whatever is left of our civilization. People don't have time to just THINK by themselves anymore.

Posted by: san antone rose on March 24, 2006 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

Lily Tomlin said that the crazy people walking around talking to themselves should be paired up so it would look like they were having a conversation.

Posted by: El on March 24, 2006 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly