It’s another hot and sticky August day here in Hamilton. And time for another blog entry. Sometimes it’s fun to just “rant” about something that really bothers you – things that make you wonder why people do the things they do. So from time to time I just might do this here on my blog. In that spirit, let me offer all of you, my readers, the first in an occasional series of “rants” about things that really bug me.
Today, I want to talk about people using cellphones on public transit vehicles such as trains and buses. Let me offer a brief prologue of sorts. After many years of driving everywhere, I gave up my car in 2007. My 1991 Ford Escort had simply turned into an old rust-bucket that wasn’t worth driving anymore. As a result, because I could not afford to buy a new car (not to mention insurance, gas, maintenance…and other costs associated with owning and operating a vehicle) I had no choice but to use public transit to get around town – not just here in Hamilton, but also to other places around the region.
Yes, it did take some time to make the adjustment, but I now rather enjoy using it. Maybe one day when I can afford to do so, I will buy another car. But there’s no rush to do that. For the most part, I find that our public transit systems here in southern Ontario, are clean, safe, efficient and affordable. Whether it’s GO Transit (the trains and buses that run throughout the GTA) or the local systems that I have used here in Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville, Mississauga and Toronto, I enjoy using them. And I have a great respect and admiration for people who work for them. The bus/subway/commuter train drivers and other staff are all great people and I salute them.
Same thing for most of my fellow passengers. The vast majority of people I have shared those vehicles with know how to behave and there are few problems. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of incidents that I have seen as a passenger. But there are some exceptions, and that’s the subject of today’s “rant”. Now that I have written my “prologue” let’s get into it in more detail.
To be more specific, I have a real problem with those public transit passengers who decide to use their cellphones during the trip. To the point where I have often thought that the new Ontario law banning cellphone usage by car drivers ought to be extended to public transit passengers too.
Why do I feel this way? Because in my experience, most cellphone users do not practice proper etiquette. Not to mention some discretion and/or personal privacy. Don’t get me wrong here, I understand that the cellphone has become a vital part of today’s society. Canada in particular has one of the highest cellphone usage rates in the world. But it drives me crazy when people use cellphones on a bus or train, because in my opinion most of them don’t know how to use their cellphones properly, or to be mindful of the other passengers.
As an example of this, on a weekday afternoon earlier this summer I found myself as a passenger on the number 1 Burlington Transit bus coming back to downtown Hamilton, something which I do frequently, if only because HAPPEN meets on Wednesdays at the Burlington Art Centre. On this particular afternoon, I got on the bus at Mapleview Mall, found a seat near the back, and settled in for what I knew would be about a 30 minute trip. The bus was about half full, which is typical of a mid-afternoon run, just before the evening rush hour kicked in.
A couple of stops later a young woman got on the bus, and wound up finding a seat just across the aisle from me. It took her a moment to settle in, then she pulled out her cellphone and called a friend. Within 5 minutes, everyone on the bus knew about her entire personal life – whether we all wanted to or not. And it was almost like watching one of the “soaps” on TV.
For starters, it seems that she had just broken up with her boyfriend, but she thinks one of her male co-workers is really “hot” and asks the other person if she ought to ask him out. And that was just the start. She kept going on about other personal stuff that I have mostly forgotten about. She got off in downtown Hamilton a couple of stops before me, still talking on the phone without even missing a beat.
But I thought about her when I eventually left the bus, and started my walk back home. Did she realize that everyone on the bus could hear her? Did she even care? Probably not. I’ll bet she was just off in her own little “world”, and not aware that something like 50 other people on that bus just found out all about her personal life. Hmm! To her credit, she did not announce to all of us where she worked or name the guy she is now interested in . But if she indicated such details to the entire bus as part of the conversation, and if any of us knew this “mystery man” at her workplace, would we contact him and tip him off that one of his colleagues wants to date him? Does he like her? Should we expect to see them sharing a meal at the local pub this Friday night? Maybe they’ll be sitting in our row at the local movie theatre. I assume the guy is single and available. OK – let’s not go there, back to my “rant”.
What happened on that recent bus trip from Burlington back here to Hamilton is only one example. I have lost count of how many times this has happened. I’ll bet that I have heard many such cellphone conversations on public transit, perhaps much more “personal” than what this young woman discussed with her friend. As I noted before, I understand that cellphones are an important communication device, and that for some people it’s a way to “kill” time while on the bus, subway or commuter train. I also fully realize that transit vehichles make lots of noise. Bus engines. Brakes. Train wheels screeching on the tracks. And you feel you need to talk louder to compensate for that and to make sure the person at the other end can hear you. But please folks, use some discretion. Yes, vehicles do make noise, but keep your voice at a reasonable volume and be mindful that others can hear you. If you’re going to discuss your love life or other personal stuff, why not do that at home, or in another location that is much more private than a bus, commuter train or subway car.
Do cellphones and public transit mix well? For the most part they do. But like many other things in life, cellphone usage requires some etiquette, common sense, and respect for your fellow passengers. If people follow these simple steps they can make the journey far more pleasant for all of us. Not to mention avoid potential embarassment if another passenger learns all their personal stuff by listening in on the conversation and uses it against them.
Oops – gotta go. My phone’s ringing. But at least I’m here at home and I have some privacy. Bye for now!
POSTSCRIPT!! It’s November 2012 and it seems that things never change. At least they don’t when it comes to cellphone usage on buses and other forms of public transit. Seems that it is almost impossible to get on a transit vehicle without someone starting a cellphone chat along the lines of what I talked about above. And the other day I discovered a very interesting survey all about cellphone etiquette. You can access it by using this link
It’s a fascinating article and tells me that little has changed since I first wrote this entry over three years ago. If anything, it seems to me that many people just don’t get it. Their cellphone etiquette is just awful and they see no reason to change it. To be fair, however, there are some folks who do get it. Sometimes I do see people who use their phones, but they talk very quietly and are respectful of their fellow passengers on the bus or train. Sad to say, however, but I think these folks are in the minority.
At the risk of turning this into a completely different article, I wonder if much of this is a generational thing. As sociologists and others who study demographics and other elements of society could also note, my generation (as in the so-called “Baby Boomers”) are the final generation of history where using a computer is optional and we can easily recall a world where personal computers, laptops, cellphones and other “gadgets” of today did not exist. For anyone who is 30 years old or younger, they find it hard to believe. They take today’s technology for granted because in some form or other it has always been there. So being able to communicate with people anytime from anywhere (including a public transit vehicle) is no big deal for the younger crowd.
Look at how some commonly used terms in society have changed meaning through the years. When I was a teenager back in the 1970′s, a “cellphone” might refer to calling your parents from the local jail asking them to bail you out after the police arrested you and your buddies after a wild night of partying. “Surfing the Net” probably referred to some dude on a surfboard in Hawaii or southern California who while riding the perfect wave back to the beach carried a fishing net to scoop up his evening meal. We all know that today, those terms have very different meanings.
In further support of all this, I recently came across a fascinating study that talks about “digital natives” and digital immigrants”. According to this concept, anyone who is 30 or younger would be considered a “DN” for the reasons I described earlier. Those of us older than that would be a “DI” because we grew up in a world without the technology of today. Many seniors (such as my parents) have embraced today’s technology while others aren’t so sure.
It’s not just technology. The same thing has happened with many other aspects of society – if you want more proof about the world around us, how it has changed from one generation to another, and what we tend to see as normal aspects of our lives, have a look at The Beliot College Mindset List. It’s a real eye-opener. Now of course I could keep going about all this, but perhaps it’s best to examine all this as part of another blog entry for another time.
I wanted to include the “generational” thing within this discussion if only to show that our young people today have whole new ways of communicating from what my generation did many years ago. But no matter what devices we use, or how old we are, I think what we all share is that we have a sense of responsibility for one’s actions and knowing that not all forms of communication are appropriate in every place. Just as you must be careful what you put online on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter (or even what I write in these blog entries for example), I think the same is true for cellphone conversations, text messages, e-mail and other forms of electronic etiquette.
To go back to the episode I mentioned earlier, does the whole world need to know that the young woman on my Burlington Transit bus that day had broken up with her boyfriend, or that she thought one of her co-workers was a “hot” guy? I don’t think so. Just as in other aspects of life, I think cellphone users ought to practice discretion, respect for others personal space, and personal privacy.
I could go on, but I think it’s time to wrap up this postscript. Thanks for reading both the original edition of this blog and this revision. Hope you all have a great day – until next time!