I’m a curious kind of guy, so sometimes I’ll eavesdrop on conversations (it’s the reporter in me). But listening in on your cellphone conversation? That’s not eavesdropping — unless you don’t know I’m listening. And if you’re on a so-called smartphone in a public place, you know strangers are listening, but you obviously don’t care. And, frankly, I don’t care either. I don’t care what you said or she said in that fight with your girlfriend. I don’t care what’s for dinner, or that Billy needs braces, or that your boss is a jerk. But what I really care about is that I’m held hostage by your bombarding prattle.
On a recent VIA Rail trip from Ottawa to Toronto, I had the misfortune of sitting across the aisle from a woman wired like a Borg out of Star Trek. She had her laptop, tablet and smartphone all fired up and despite the routine VIA Rail request that passengers silence their phones, both she and her phone remained on loud, with a few high-pitched laughs thrown in. The guy two seats behind outdid her with his sales pitch instructions directed into a smartphone. The fellow in the seat in front of me was also wirelessly working on the go … and sharing the details with me and everyone else in the train car, including the woman wired like a Borg.
The train experience is just the latest in a long list of irritating and unwanted cellphone eavesdropping episodes. On that list, I have plane and washroom incidents, also from trips between Ottawa and Toronto.
I think passengers on planes are a bit spaced out at the best of times. It’s as if they put their lives on pause when they reluctantly turn off their smartphones. Even before the flight attendant says it’s safe to do so, the smartphones are back on as soon as the wheels roll on the tarmac. The drone of desperate voices nearly drowns out the drone of the plane’s engines. Inside the terminal, I search for a washroom while weaving to avoid suitcase-dragging zombies with phones glued to ears or heads down, text messaging with one hand.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a techie from way back, starting with the Commodore 64, my first computer. As a journalist with radio and television for close to 35 years, I became somewhat tech savvy and I didn’t leave it behind with retirement from the CBC. I have a desktop computer, PC tablet, laptop, and a smartphone. I’m into social media – Facebook, Twitter, websites, blogs and more. But I always have a headset in my computer bag when I travel.
I value my privacy and I try to avoid situations where others can eavesdrop on my conversations, whether on a phone or in a tête à tête. I don’t talk on my phone in public places. As a matter of fact, I seldom talk on my phone. I use it mostly for text messaging. And I don’t lay my phone on the table when I’m at a restaurant. I don’t like it when people pollute my space with their phone conversations and I’m not shy about telling them. I’ve gotten some strange looks.
But meanwhile, back at the airport terminal in Toronto, I found the washroom on the way to luggage pickup. I stood at the sink, washing my hands with soap and hot water. I glanced in the mirror where I caught the reflection of a tall man in a dark suit at the urinal behind. His left hand was obviously busy with the intended purpose, but his right hand was punching in a text message on his phone that was leaning against the wall on the top of the urinal. I wonder if he washed his phone with soap and hot water before leaving the washroom.
I once listened in on a washroom cellphone conversation that gave new meaning to the phrase “talking on the big white telephone”. I left before the guy in the stall flushed, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the person he was talking to got to hear the flush, too.
A study conducted in Britain a few years ago found one in six cellphones tested were contaminated with fecal matter. After witnessing one too many cellphone washroom incidents, I now definitely think twice, or more, before borrowing anyone’s cell to make a call.
Gerry Jones is a member of the CWA Canada Retirees Council. He does not use his cellphone in washrooms and does clean it regularly.