Using Your Phone (As A Phone) In Public

There’s one topic that I’ve probably complained about on Twitter more than any other, and that’s public phone usage. I see a lot of articles bemoaning how Twitter / Facebook / Snapchat / Instagram / Candy Crush keeps us from interacting with the live humans right in front of us, but I’m more interested in how folks act like jerks when using phones for their original purpose: talking.

Since I’ve moved to London I’ve been taking public transportation nearly every day. I love it so much. I love not having to own a car, or pay for taxis. I can get anywhere I need to go (including to the veterinarian, with two scared kittens in a carrier), and even though it can take awhile, I don’t mind. I can read a few chapters in a book, listen to a podcast, or just stare out the window, getting lost in my own daydreams.

Until a Phone Talker boards the bus.

Often, they board the bus mid-conversation, which I get. The bus pulls into the stop unexpectedly, and they don’t want to be rude, so they don’t hang up immediately. If it takes them 30 seconds or so to do as they get settled into their seat, that’s completely understandable.

But so often the Phone Talker seems to forget there are other people around them who might not be as invested in what they’re cooking for dinner, or whether Bob is going to close the deal. People who cannot escape these calls because they, too, need to be on this bus.

If I’m boarding at the same time as a Phone Talker, I can usually at least position myself as far from them as possible. But in other cases that’s not possible, like when folks decide to initiate a phone call mid-ride. And why not, right? There’s clearly nothing the other 40 people on the bus are more invested in than whether their fellow passenger’s sister caught Grey’s Anatomy last night, and what she thinks about April’s storyline.*

Obviously it is absurd to expect a silent bus; these aren’t the Amtrak quiet cars. People have conversations with the friends sitting next to them, or engage in a little “I Spy” with their kids. But phone conversations are harder to tune out. Plus, Phone Talkers believe they must shout to be heard on the phone. If the bus is crowded, they’ll yell even louder so they can hear themselves over the din of their fellow commuters. Some will wear headphones, but others won’t, and the worst offenders will put the other person on speaker.

I get that people have busy lives, and that often a bus ride (or a lounge at the airport) offers a chunk of time to get caught up on life. But the thing is no one else wants — or needs — to hear the details of what’s going on in your life. If you’re in a public place, and other people can’t easily get away from you, then unless there is an actual emergency (and no, your friend deciding between locations for his honeymoon is not an emergency), I would argue that you should not be talking on the phone other than to say “Hey, I’m on the bus, can I call you back in 10 minutes?”

But if that’s absolutely impossible, and this is literally the only time you have to talk to someone you absolutely must talk to, then please at least be considerate of those around you. Move to a less populated part of the bus. Use your indoor voice.

And for the sake of all that is good in the world, don’t put the phone on speaker.


*Yeah, I still watch it.

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