Simon Kelner: OMG, I'm not the only one made grumpy by mobiles

Kelner's view

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The Independent Online

Oh My God, as the young people say. By the way, when I was in America last year, someone told me that there are now five different iterations of these three little words, from Oh My Gaaaaad (amazement) through to Oh. My. God. (outrage). But that's another story.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. I was astonished by the response – via mail, Facebook postings and tweets – to Friday's column, or rather rant, about the man who forced everyone on a crowded bus to listen to his mobile phone conversation. Most of you made the observation that has struck me for some time: namely, why would you want other people to eavesdrop on your private business? I go out of my way to ensure that no one can hear, and nine times out of 10 on a bus or train, I switch my phone on to silent and don't answer if anyone calls.

Of course, you may get a call that's really important – I don't, obviously – but the vast majority of conversations you overhear are of the domestic, non-urgent variety. One of my Facebook respondents, Matt Johnson, said that he was particularly irritated by those who take calls in the quiet carriage of trains and then say, repeatedly: "I shouldn't really be doing this, so I'll have to go..."

There was much in the same vein. Thoughtless and boring, said Maura Framrose. Embarrassing, said Rosy Clarke, who didn't like feeling as if she was listening in on someone else's call, even though she had no choice. Anti-social and pretentious, in the opinion of Leslie Mitchell.

And this, of course, lands on another interesting aspect of mobile phone technique. The pretention of it. Many of the conversations people have are as much for the audience as for the person on the other end of the line. They want everyone to know how fabulous their life is, whether it be by discussing their fun-packed weekend, or anticipating more thrills to come.

These are the phonees you really want to challenge with an invitation to see just how preposterous they are. On a Monday morning, when there's so much else to worry about in the world, it may seem a rather trivial matter to get in a lather about, but your reaction tells me that the invasiveness of ostensibly private conversations in public spaces is something not to be disregarded.

It is not just the substance of what's being discussed, and its seemingly meaningless nature, it's the fact that, usually, on a bus or a train, we are in our own private world, reading, thinking or day-dreaming, and we don't like to be disturbed. It's just not right to be sitting there quietly working out your strategy to get through the day ahead and to have a fellow passenger banging on about "going forward", or saying "cool" every other word.

And then there's the other one, almost equally irritating: the person who talks quietly into the phone, but loud enough for you to pick up every other word without being able to follow the thread of the conversation. So annoying!

I never used to like that programme Grumpy Old Men very much. Stop me if I get like that, I would say. Sadly, it seems too late. Have a nice day!

 

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