Private phone conversations

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

I try hard not to complain—much.

But there is one thing about modern life that makes it extremely difficult for me to remain silent. The pervasiveness of the mobile phone as an appendage of homo sapiens.

Anyone who has been on public transit lately will know what I’m talking about. Nearly everyone you see is sitting transfixed, staring at the screen of a mobile phone, reading emails, surfing the Internet, playing games, looking at videos, or texting; sometimes, they’re even engaged in animated conversations with wired earphones or those wireless things that make it look like they’re talking to themselves.

There used to be a time that you could get away from this if you flew, but even inflight you’re subjected to it now. People with their devices on ‘airplane mode,’ meaning they’re unable to send or receive calls or texts, but can still play games or watch movies, or—shudder—take pictures.

I was recently on a subway car and of the fifteen passengers, only two of us were not fixated on our phones; me and a homeless man who was stretched out on his seat fast asleep. Two were playing online games, one was watching what was obviously a funny video because she laughing hysterically every few minutes, four or five of them were either reading or sending text messages, and one was engaged in an argument with someone on her phone via a blue tooth headset. She sat there glaring off into the distance engaged in a really heated disagreement with someone who, from the subject of the conversation I could clearly hear—her side, that is—was her significant other. For thirty minutes I was privy to what should really be information about her that only her doctor, lawyer, or therapist should know.

When you’re only two seats away from a situation like this and the configuration of the car’s seating has you facing the person, how do you make it clear that you’re trying not to listen to what you can hear clearly—and wish you couldn’t?

When I was a youngster, we didn’t really have literal privacy on our phones because they were party line phones, but if you were on and someone picked up and heard you talking only the truly nosy stayed on to listen. Then direct lines came in and people could have private conversations. It was considered rude to eavesdrop on someone’s phone conversation and even the police needed a warrant to bug your phone. If you were outside and just had to make a call, you went to a phone booth, and closed the door. Anyone seen a phone booth lately? I think they’ve gone the way of the dinosaurs.

I am all for bringing the phone booth back. Maybe something like the breast feeding stations they have in public places for mothers who must feed their young and don’t want to expose themselves to the world. Privacy booths could be located around cities and if someone just had to make a call that couldn’t wait a few minutes, they could step into the booth, make the call without informing the whole city of what they’re doing, and then continue on their journey.

I don’t suppose there’s much we can do about the texters, video watchers, and gamers, but at least they’re not sharing the content with us. – NWI