In the Blog

iPods, cellphones, etiquette, privacy and safety.

June 19th, 2008     by Catherine Hayday     Comments

(I cheaped it a little yesterday, so I’m doing a Wired Wednesday bonus round — Wired Wednesdays, now on Thursday!)

Over the last few months, and then twice today, CBC shows have featured stories on iPod and cell phone etiquette, noise pollution, safety and community.

Getting lots of air time are the people concerned about hearing loss, or the dangers of pedestrian oblivion. And the community-minded who worry about shutting out other people, creating barriers, and leaving us with cities filled with the walking dead. Plugged in and tuned out.

I’m not saying these aren’t fair points.

Some of the shows have been based in on-the-street interviews, and Ontario Today just wrapped up a call-in version. I had my (landline) phone at the ready, but missed the last time she gave out the number. I don’t call in to call-in shows. But I have been waiting and waiting (and waiting) for any of these episodes to say the one thing I keep saying out loud to our radio.

iPods Well-represented are the single guys who mourn the loss of random conversations because all the women have their iPods on. Less opportunity for chats with a girl on the subway, or on the street, or at the gym.

But here’s The Thing.

I might not want you to strike up a conversation with me. iPods absolutely create a barrier. But I ain’t single, and I ain’t looking. For me it’s an intentional barrier, and a polite hint.

Being able to put up a barrier that helps take me out of the casual-conversation-that-might-go-somewhere-pool is a godsend to me. I go to the gym to work out not pick-up, I go to the grocery store to get milk, and I’m coming home from work because I don’t want to live there.

If more casual conversations were just that, I might feel differently. But many of the people who called in were clear that they were ultimately hoping for more. If you’re a single person who is comfortable approaching strangers in cafes and on the bus, then power to you. But I reserve the right to want to not be approached. And listening to my iPod is a subtle way for me to indicate that.

More than once when not wearing my iPod I’ve had random exchanges which started out pleasantly, but which ended badly when it turned from the “have you been waiting long for the streetcar” to the “how you doin’?”. Even outright hostility, as though by answering an innocuous first question I led them to believe I wanted to have their babies.

I’m happy to have a quick chat about the weather/traffic/city. I get asked for directions just about every time I step out of my front door, and I want to make people feel welcome in my city. But I don’t want to go out for coffee.

As for a sense of safety and community. I listen to my iPod when I’m out walking, sometimes, and rarely eardrum-bursting loud. Not at night in neighbourhoods I don’t know. Never when I’m riding my bike in traffic (the sound of traffic might be unpleasant, but it’s also full of very important cues). And I do the opposite of what one caller described — when I see an altercation, I take my headphones /off/ not put them on.

It is a barrier, but not an absolute one. If used responsibly, they do nothing worse than soften the edges of the world around you, and give it an awesome soundtrack.

Cellphones On the topic of cell phones The Current divided up users into innies and outties (comme the bellybutton). Innies are discrete about their calls. If you need to answer your phone, you apologize, and often excuse yourself to somewhere people aren’t. Outties are flagrant about their calls and have them wherever, whenever and at can’t-help-but-listen volumes.

I’m an innie.

I marvel at the raw data I overhear from the cell conversations of people riding the TTC. I sat behind a young woman about a week ago who gave out not one, but two complete credit card numbers, with expiry date and verification codes. Her full name. Her birthdate. And her address. My. god.

But she’s not in the minority. I’ve often thought about starting a collection of all the full names and phone numbers I hear loudly distributed. License plate numbers, passwords, where they keep their spare keys. So often out of the mouths of young women.

I don’t think it’s paranoid to think that it’s just bad sense to shout out this info in front of 50 strangers. Come on team, we’re smarter than that.


So that’s it. That’s the summary (what? it could have been longer) of my pent up “but, no, wait” in listening to these shows.

What about you? How do you feel about cell phone discretion and etiquette? Do you have an iPod? When and where do you listen to it (and how loud)? What are your experiences with community and random chats?

(Good news stories at least as welcome as the bad)

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