Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for September 8th, 2010

Cell phones on transit

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This has been a peeve of mine for some time – and this post was inspired by this recent piece in the New York Times. Quiet cars are not new – they have been so designated on West Coast Express for some time – and in Britain some railway coaches are fitted with special glass so that cell phones cannot be used. But here, in Vancouver, the Canada Line was opened with a special “leaky cable” so that cell phone calls would continue once the train plunged below Cambie Street.

It is of course about civility – or rather, these days, its absence. People on cell phones seem to be unaware – or unconcerned  – that everyone else is eavesdropping, unwillingly, on half the conversation. Some young people also like to talk in exaggeratedly loud voices in the hopes of offending others in ear shot. Nothing new about that: in Paris in the late 19th century the decadents loved to “Épater la bourgeoisie”. But really I think it is mostly that modern sensibility is that the individual can do as they like – and need not concern themselves about the impact they have on others. Especially if that includes conspicuous consumption: there is a market advantage that corporations can profit from, and that is all that they can care about – that is established in civil law and seems to overrule all else.

I do not want to hear what you have to say to whoever it is you have to call. Or who calls you. It is mostly trivial – and could easily have waited. Every public event I attend is always preceded now with a public announcement to turn off pagers and cell phones – yet there are always a few who ignore that. They consider themselves far too important to be cut off for even a moment. They would never think that maybe a text – or a voice mail – might do just as well. That it does not have to be instantaneous. That there are some moments in life when interruption is not welcome. That the people who look over your shoulder at a party to see if someone more interesting has just arrived are simply being rude.

Why does our transit system encourage such boorishness? Probably because of some corporate deal making that fed a new source of revenue their way. We cannot be allowed to know that, of course. “Privacy” does mean the individual can be left in peace: it means that a corporation can conceal anything it likes in the name of commercial confidentiality. Because that matters. Individuals – or even society as whole – do not.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 8, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Posted in transit

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