Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The silent cell phone

I was in one of those situations yesterday where: a) every seat on the plane is full, b) the plane has pulled away from the gate but has not yet taken off, and c) air traffic control has just decided that the plane cannot take off because of weather problems in the destination city. So we were trapped in the airplane and sitting on the tarmac waiting for permission to take off. The pilot helpfully comes on the intercom to say, "feel free to use your cell phones."

I was in row 14, and this row was six seats wide. I was in one of the window seats. Upon hearing the announcement, a woman in the opposite window seat instantly whipped out her cell phone and made her first call.

The first problem with cell phones in tight spaces is that she began talking loudly enough that everyone in my row (and likely everyone 3 or 4 rows away) could hear her quite clearly. I have no idea why this happens -- if two people are talking to each other on a plane, they will tend to do it sotto voce. On a cell phone, many people instead pump up the volume. Everyone nearby is a prisoner forced to listen to the conversation.

She hangs up after five minutes and she makes her second call. Much of it is a repeat of her first call, and all of us on the plane are hearing it now, at full volume, for the second time. One line she used in both calls was, "We are sitting in the plane on the run way, and I am getting a lot of studying done." By the second call, the guy next to me mentioned, "Why don't you hang up and do some of that studying?"

The second problem with cell phones in tight spaces is that, when you hear only one side of a private phone conversation, and especially when you hear it twice, it almost always sounds completely idiotic. Or it is painful. If the two people on the call are having an argument, that's when it is painful. Having to listen to one side of a lovey-dovey or phone-sex call is no fun either.

After ten minutes the woman hung up and then made her third call, reciting the same crap again. At this point everyone around her was exchanging "urge to kill" glances. Which is the third problem with cell phones in tight spaces -- the person making the call is generally oblivious.

From this description it is obvious why cell phones can be annoying in public places. But I have been thinking for awhile that there must be some extra "annoyance factor" at work, because the people around her truly were ready to kill her. As I listened to this woman babble on for the third time, I had this idea. The woman on the cell phone was in essence saying to everyone around her, "screw you." Her obliviousness was a part of that. But the other part was, "All you people who are sitting next to me, you are not good enough -- I need to be talking to someone else who is more important than you." It is like a public snubbing. Maybe that is the other factor that makes it so annoying?

The previous post talks about a voice scrambler. That is not what we need. What we need is a device that somehow allows someone to talk on a cell phone in complete silence. It seems like this would be possible (maybe not easy, but possible) -- Sort of like a noise-canceling muffler for a cell phone. The cell phone's microphone would pick up the caller's voice, and then a speaker on the cell phone would emit the opposite waveform to completely cancel it out. The person would be talking, but no one around him/her would hear a thing.

Whoever creates such a device -- the silent cell phone -- would be doing the world a gigantic favor.

Someone please invent a phone like this. Then please force every cell phone to have this technology. Then please require everyone who uses a cell phone in public to use such a cell phone.
There should be a universal way for people around a cell-phone-talker like this to force the person to stop. A jammer is one way but it is illegal and who wants to carry one.
the technology is out there it will just be a matter of getting the cell phone companies to help develop it and then to get the people who should use it to use it.
see this article on sub-vocal mic's
This sounds like a job for Woody Norris. Actually, that woman is probably just as obnoxious without the cell phone...
I think the annoyance with public cellphone use is a generational issue. I live near a college campus, and everyone under the age of 30 is on their cellphone constantly. I doubt they would be bothered in the circumstances you describe; they would just pick up their cellphones themselves, or turn on their iPod. After all of us old fogeys die off the younger generation will be perfectly comfortable chatting away obliviously.
>After all of us
>old fogeys die off
>the younger generation
>will be perfectly
>comfortable chatting
>away obliviously.

Why do you think that we have stopped talking to those around us? Is that good or bad?
>Whoever creates such
>a device -- the silent
>cell phone -- would be
>doing the world a
>gigantic favor.

You just became the invetor of the silent cell phone. Why don't you patent the idea and bring it to market?
Thanks, Marshall. I'll be sure to bookmark your post under the ever growing "Reasons Why I Hate To Fly" folder.
I have a feeling this annoying talker felt "superior" because she had so many people to call.

A friend and I once started mocking an extremely LOUUUD and obnoxious cell phone user in a ticket line by repeating everything she said.

Everyone around us started laughing, and she got off the phone giving everyone dirty looks :-)

Yes, there are always ways to let them know. I like to whip out my cell phone and fake call someone then say things like, "Yeah, there is this lady next to me that is talking so loud."
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