It’s a special kind of noise pollution when people turn up the volume on their phones, tablets, computers or any electronics in public. Rudely transgressing the natural sound barrier that should exist when people are forced to sit in close quarters, these people put their devices before decorum.
Headed home from a conference last weekend, I was faced with the delightful prospect of killing five hours in the San Antonio airport. It’s a surprisingly small hub for a big and steamy city. I stretched out a late lunch as long as I could, then, with nothing better to do, headed for my gate. C3 was nearly full; meanwhile, my phone battery was nearing empty.
Scanning the place, I spotted a vacant chair and — oh, lucky day — it was next to a charging outlet. Plugging in my little old phone, I noted the other cord was running to my neighbor’s new, supersized device. Smiling at the middle-aged woman, I settled in to read. As I opened a magazine, she fired up her fancy phone to — well — perform quite a number of operations, as it turned out.
She started with a FaceTime phone call to her kids. I’m all for calling the family before you board that plane, but is it me, or is it odd when people broadcast their private calls?
I couldn’t help sneaking a sideways glance to see her kids in the kitchen, banging around, hollering their heads off and tearing around the place. Peeling my eyes from the scene of culinary destruction, I marvelled when she said she missed them.
Giving (silent) thanks my kids are now young adults with their own kitchens to mess up, I tried to get back to my book. But it was hard to concentrate when my neighbour kept saying, “Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?”
Apparently, her kids couldn’t, but everybody within a couple of rows of us surely could. The whole scenario struck me as too personal, a little too intimate, to share with total strangers.
I breathed a sigh of relief when she finally hung up.
Returning to my Oprah Magazine, I was absorbed in an article (healthy is the new skinny, if you didn’t know) when my oblivious seat-sharer, having scrolled through her phone for her next scheduled interruption, turned on the TV. A sitcom came on her screen and she sat back to watch it at near-full volume.
I stopped reading. I turned to look at her — not quite with a glare but, you know, one of those pointed kind of looks that says, ‘Umm, what the hell?”
She completely ignored me.
I started looking around to see if anyone else was feeling my pain. Failing to procure backup, I sighed loudly, turning to look at her once more. I was struggling to be polite because, of course, I am a Canadian. Plus, I was in Texas, though thankfully through security and so presumably safe from gunfire.
As the show’s laugh track mocked me, I pondered my next move. I could ask her to please turn it down a little, but by that time I ascertained she wouldn’t get it. Maybe I could just ask if she had headphones.
Herein lies my take. There’s a polite solution to this situation. If you want to FaceTime with your family, find somewhere private. If you want to watch TV on your personal device in a crowded room, use headphones. Am I right?
I think it’s inconsiderate to subject your neighbours to your personal entertainment preferences. Only those on their way to a vacation relish sitting around an airport. I’m pretty sure the rest of us can find something to pass the time without infringing upon others. Watching your sitcom out loud while I try to read is like tossing salt in the wound of waiting for that delayed plane. Ten days in Texas and plenty of rimmed margaritas later, I didn’t need any more sodium.
Practising deep breathing, I took out my laptop. I could thank her, I guess, for this weekend’s material.
When our flight was finally called, the ticket agent announced there would be no on-board entertainment, but that those who had downloaded the United app could watch Netflix or some other streaming.
“Oh, no!” said my neighbour, her voice tight with panic. Looking at me at last, she said, “Do you have that app?”
Shannon Linden writes magazine and newspaper articles, kids’ books, and grocery lists. See shannonlinden.ca.