Saturday, July 15, 2006


Crazy people on their cell phones

Why do people talk unnaturally loudly on cell phones?

My theory is a mix of technology and psychology. Out in public, as opposed to the privacy of home or office that typically surrounds a land line, the ambient noise makes it harder to hear. (Also cell phones tend to pick up ambient noise and often have weak reception, compounding the problem.) When people engaged in conversation don’t hear clearly, they compensate by talking louder.

This is particularly true on a bus or train, where the locomotion creates a steady background noise. Loud cell phone talking has become such a problem that Amtrak now designates a cell-phone-free “quiet car” on each of its trains, where non-cell phone users can take refuge from booming-voiced cell phone talkers.

B and I were recently being victimized by such a talker the other day on an Amtrak commuter line. The man had a particularly piercing voice. He was so loud his voice even cut into the language-study CD I was listening to with earphones. I soon found myself unwillingly learning far more about this man’s business than I wanted to know.

Literally his business. He is a supplier of ceramic tiles for new housing construction. He is changing suppliers. He’s not happy with the company that provides the packaging he uses; he can get a much better deal elsewhere. He has hired a former U.S. Senator as a sales rep. He is very boastful, even when trying to sound self deprecating. For instance, he repeatedly pointed out that his profit margin was down, even though his gross revenues were way up.

I’ve often felt that most cell phone conversations that appear to be about business are really about self importance. Any business matter of any real importance is probably going to be confidential and is going to be discussed by someone who is not such an idiot as to allow a dozen random strangers to hear about it. When you overhear somebody on their cell phone talking to the home office – “don’t forget to get that Flenders memo mailed out today!” – or to another roving cell-phone carrying business person – “I’m at the airport... where are you? Oh, you’re at the airport too?” – it’s a conversation that could probably wait until a land line is available.

The longer it went on, Ceramic Tile Man’s conversation seemed increasingly odd to me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I’ve previously speculated that crazy people who talk to themselves on the street now can seem “normal” doing so, as long as they’re holding up a cell phone to their ear. But, because those conversations are rambling monologues with never a pause to listen to a person on the other end, you can usually detect them as imaginary conversations.

Or can you? Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm plays a lot of scenes in which you see him on one end of a conversation. He’s told interviewers that he prides himself on playing realistic fake phone calls, inserting realistic pauses and “uh-huh’s” to create the impression of a speaker on the other end of the line. He’s sort of crazy. What’s to say that crazy people on the street – or the train – are not similarly skilled?

Ceramic Tile Man had lots of pauses, as if he were listening. But it finally dawned on me just what was weird. I just couldn’t imagine anybody, let alone another business person, being on the other end of Ceramic Tile Man’s impossibly long, blustering set of statements. It just couldn’t be a real conversation. Ceramic Tile Man is a loud and crazy guy.

It's mostly psychological and somewhat historical. Other examples:

1. The manual cranking motion used to gesture the opening of a car window. It's managed to survive the advent of power windows.

2. The turning down of a car radio toward the end of a trip, when you want to (visually) locate your destination. I understand the need to concentrate, but the practice seems universal and a little weird.

3. Homer Simpson on the telephone, just out of the shower: "You'll have to speak up, I'm wearing a towel."

idskyl (ID-skill): the ability of underaged people to make themselves older and probably of another race, for purposes of identification.

Whither the verifiction results? I recall Quinn the Brain had a pretty good one a few weeks ago.
I think Ceramic Tile Man is a superhero. But what would his superpower be? That he can turn shiny, smooth and brittle? That he can throw tiles at the speed of a bullet? That he has to change into his super persona in a bathroom?

jlbomct - (jail-bum-court) Sit in jail before appearing in court.
I love it ... cell yell as a symptom of insanity.
Mr. Verb

ykgpksnn (ook-gəp-kə-sən: 'person from Ykgpks'.
along with what NM said, has anyone noticed that when people talk about writing a memo or letter or something, they wiggle their fingers like they are typing on their computer? now that i've said this, you'll catch yourself doing it.
Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]