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Wandering party lines

People in public presume the right to converse with other members of the public at will. Walking in a park, talking with someone else, you generally have the right to do so. You can do this on a subway, too; it's quite common, no one's bothered at all.

There's one problem, though, with the cell phone interaction: the headset's speaker is too quiet. It's made for one person's ear, but in real life we all get to hear what's being said. It makes the usual interaction social (for some, one of the reasons they're on the train in the first place) where with a cell phone conversation it's impossible to hear the other person. That can grate on the nerves, and requires the use of predictive hearing and creative games of fill-in-the-blank.

One difference remains, though. With public social interactions comes the ability for someone who's not in the conversation to enter it. That's how many people meet, after all, and it's often a friendly thing to do. With a cell phone conversation, it's rare to hear the public comment on what's going on. With their voices unconsciously silenced, resentment grows and people begin to shift and glare (I'm from Oregon, this could differ in other localities).

I feel that the resentment could be alleviated if cell phones users understood more clearly that they are indeed in a public conversation — that a cell phone does not introduce an invisible barrier of privacy. Their conversation is not stopped by that barrier, and I don't wish my public excursions to be intruded on by bubbles of resented, unwillingly granted privacy.


We (Americans) have adopted the position that if "I" can hear something then it is mine to do with as I please. In many other cultures it would not only be grossly presumptious but insulting for a stranger to listen in on any conversation uninvited.

We are LOUD. This is the counterpart failing of cellphone conversations, or most conversations in general. Americans, of which I am one, have a tendency to "share" everything in a publicv setting, akin to "wearing one's heart on one's sleeve".

We should do two things. First, be more gracious and not assume ownership of the conversations of others. Second, we should learn to be quiet.

One reason I wrote this was to indicate to cell phone users that they are not alone; to remember that there's a world outside of the earpiece, that needs to be respected as well.

I'm not sure I agree that conversations are the proprietary right of the conversers, if held in public, at normal volume; I'd never interrupt two people whispering to each other, but I'm not going to hesitate to interject when the conversation's being held at broadcast volume (or louder, as you indicate).

I definitely don't intend to assume ownership, but I'm willing to interject once in a while; it all depends on the topic of conversation, how friendly the people look — and I can be turned away far too easily (as I'm skittish at heart).

My experiences in several countries has been the opposite of Papa Maloney's. Public spaces in, well, actually, all of the places I've traveled outside the US* invite well-mannered participation by strangers (foriegn or domestic).

The LOUDNESS of many US citizens abroad (I learned a long time ago that Canada, Central America and South America are all inhabited by people who find the US appropriation of the word American to mean exclusively the US to be a sort of symantec arrogance akin to loud conversation) doesn't seem to enter public space in a participatory fashion. It dominates the public space, driving out other conversation (much like loud cell calls).

The assumptions I've observed on the part of the "Ugly American" are that they own the space, with little regard for others with whom they share that space. Many haven't cared to participate with the public. Those who have often continue the dominance, though, failing to listen or respond to the social subtexts that flow around them.

Cell phone users are really doing to people in the US what the "Ugly American" does whenever he or she travels. It doesn't feel very good. They're saying with the loud and obtrusive use, me and my world are more important that what's right here around me.

It seems to me that an admonition to be silent may be preferential, but one to listen and observe and learn the mores of a space would be even better.

But geez, if the US public could do *that* we'd be a long way toward a government that could do the same? Respect rules not our own, like other cultures' or even nature's? Okay, I guess I got a little idealistic. Then again, maybe that's the best activism, the folks sitting next to you.

That we should collude socially to pretend others don't exist or that they have no stake at all in transactions, social or otherwise, that take place in public space is alienating and dangerous. Better to consider the ways that we can bring awareness to those who are abusive of common goods, like the space on a bus or the quality of the air or the cleanliness of the oceans.

* Most of my travel has been in Europe or the Western Hemisphere . . . perhaps he's alluding to Asian culture, in which I admittedly have no experience. I don't doubt what he says is true in some places, but I'm a little put off by his vagueness, especially since it doesn't match my experience or provide any detail or reference for evaluating it's accuracy.

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