Friday, April 6, 2012

iPhone Etiquette Revisited

Selfish, boorish behaviour has become the norm rather than the exception these days when it comes to how many people act in public. People seem so rushed, so self-absorbed, and so inconsiderate of other people, one wonders if they are living in another world. This point is illustrated by the following question sent in by a reader.

“I was taking the train from Moncton to Montreal when both the young girl in the seat in front of me and the older lady behind me both began talking on their cell phones. I’m not sure who was more irritating. The young girl was calling a friend to determine where Campbellton was (she was erroneously told in Quebec). She swore profusely and complained about not having a smoke in forever. The older lady was four wines in and talked for four hours straight in between relentless hiccupping and giggling.

“Should it really be my responsibility to have to inform people on a train that they should not be on their cell phones having casual conversations? Shouldn’t a transit company nowadays with expanded mobile phone range be accommodating for these people that have to talk on their phones by suggesting an alternative area to have their conversation? Are you aware of a transit company of any other place of congregation that has cell phone friendly policies to make the experience more comfortable for both iPhoners and noPhoners? Thanks!”

In answer to your query about other transit companies having cell phone policies, indeed there are. Having never had the pleasure yet of riding the ‘Great Canadian Rails’, I will trust your observations and assume that either the rules were simply being ignored, or there are no such rules in place. In both Britain and the United States, there are carriages designated as “quiet cars”, where one may not use one’s iPhone for lengthy convos and certainly not for loud ones. One may not even carry on a lively chat with one’s fellow passengers in such a car. These cars are usually for first or business class passengers, and such rules are not train-wide, as they hopefully one day will be.

In the meantime, in answer to your question about responsibility, as given this is not a matter of train policy, so I doubt you’d get a lot of satisfaction from the train crew. Therefore, you are well within your rights to address the issue with both offending parties, but quietly and privately. Otherwise you are merely adding fuel to the fire. As with any situation where someone is being annoying by infringing upon your space, you can take the lead. Realize however that you run the risk of having a nasty confrontation with the offending parties because many people react badly to being told how rude they are, whether it is about using cell phones or anything else.

I am very generous when it comes to giving people the benefit of the doubt. After all, everyone is subject to emergencies and difficult days. This is in no way a ticket to obnoxious behavior however. People who are in despair or even just out of sorts should make an effort to seek solace with friends and family in a private place. Airing one’s dirty laundry on the train, discussing personal matters such as one’s health problems, boss problems, mate problems, et cetera is not acceptable at any time. But what happens to people when they are under sudden stress is that they become fearful and unsure of themselves. Broadcasting their issues to the public somehow makes them feel more connected, and justified in their misery. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.

Whether on a train, a plane, a bus, or a ship, respecting the space one shares with others is important and is the decent thing to do. Just because other people behave in an uncivil manner does not mean you can too. This backsliding of respect for other people, this utter disregard for how one affects other people, and this brash bullying behaviour needs to stop. Somewhere along the line, someone’s parents forgot to say ‘NO’.

My advice is that parents need to teach their children about the appropriate use of cell phones in public when they get their first phones, assuming the parents know of the existence of such guidelines. Until that point, returning to the reader’s question, it is up to us to protect our boundaries and comfort zones. Just be sure not to be rude about it!