Speakerphone: The Sound of a Failed Society

I can admit that I am a bit old fashioned when it comes to cell phone etiquette, if cell phones are even old enough to have an old-fashioned division.  I think a phone should be on silent or vibrate.  I think if you watch shows or listen to music on your phone you should use headphones. And phone conversations in public should be like abortion for Democrats in the 90s: safe, legal and rare.  I know… real Puritanical shit on my part.  But as the smart phone midwifes society to engage and augment humanity’s worst impulses, I have noticed the speakerphone conversation becoming almost ubiquitous (not that everyone does it, but that at least one person will always be doing it no matter where you are).  While I wallow in my post concert come down (last night was Bruce Springsteen in Vegas – no more details until the April 4th Rain on Your Parade podcast) I thought why not write this week about the most recent bane of my existence.

Many of us remember Nextel’s walkie talkie function, which allowed attention and cashed starved teens to engage in loud, public conversations with the added pleasure of walkie talkie beeps.  But speakerphone, like so much tech, used to be something to enhance productivity (and the great sin of modern life – convenience).  It would allow you to do something manual while also having a phone conversation (someone with what Mike Pence would call “broad shoulders” could always rest the phone in between your head and shoulder, but speakerphone was much more comfortable).

But as cell phones became more and more common we found new ways to be discourteous.  I did an entire episode of Rain on Your Parade about smartphones, but regretted afterwards not even bringing up speakerphone.  Walking and texting, ADD, using phones during movies, not silencing phones during theater, diminishing people’s abilities to have conversation or eye contact – the jury is in and smart phones are a net negative for humanity, aided in part by a generation of ruthless, manipulative billion dollar companies.  But speakerphone?  That’s on us.

A switch was clearly flipped during the rise of the smart phone.  Rarely anyone, save the Radio Raheems of the world, listened to music out loud in public on their personal devices.  Headphones and the more recent advance of wireless earbuds make it clear how you are supposed to listen to music in public. But perhaps with that advent of Tik Tok and streamers, people view their phones more like their TVs or computers and don’t instinctively reach for ear buds.  I am sorry – let me correct that – stupid, fu*king, rude people view them that way.  But J-L, it feels like you are calling a sizeable part of the population “stupid, fu*king rude”?  Yes. Yes I am.

The inspiration for this post came yesterday as I took a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.  The bus driver made an explicit message at the beginning of the ride that phones should be used silently for the convenience of the passengers.  I looked around and realized that I, in fact, was included among these “passengers” whose convenience was being protected.  What occurred was a level of diversity that would make the most hard core progressive’s heart swell with pride and a rudeness display that made this less hard core progressive want to steer the bus into oncoming traffic.

First was the Latin couple who had a series of incredibly loud speaker phone conversations (when their stripper daughter picked them up at the bus station I felt a swell of forgiveness for them). I’d say it was a total of about 50 minutes.  I had Beats noise cancelling headphones on (I gave up on reading on the ride due to the noise) and yet Beats has clearly never tested their merchandise on a crowded Greyhound bus.

The real MVP of the trip was the Black woman behind me who, after we left Barstow, California, proceeded to have a 2 hour loud, vulgarity and homophobia-laced conversation on speakerphone.  If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you can hear a short and full version of some of the audio I was able to capture, under the guise of recording video of America’s beautiful landscapes.

When I left Barstow the signs were all there that the ride was about to get a lot worse

And perhaps in the spirit of When in Rome, or in a more spiteful, MAGA-esque “why do the minorities get to have all the stuff?!” an elderly white woman got on a speakerphone conversation towards the end of the ride for 15 minutes.  Now full disclosure, my mom is an 80 year old white woman with diminished hearing and this is how she prefers to use her cell phone.  Now, based on both my sympathies for older people and the fact that they make up a majority of my fans based on YouTube algorithms, I often carve out exceptions for them with issues related to tech.  But today is not that day.  My Mom often says “I hate this thing” of her cell phone.  Well to the Moms and Grandmothers of the world I say put your money where your hate is – no more speakerphone in public.

  • GreenHeart Gardener

    Ouch. I’m an “older people” fan. However, I do not have speakerphone convos except in situations where I want to be intimidating to a particular person.

    Thank you for your travelogue.


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