Mobile Communications

Rant: Public electronics abuse is everywhere

Here in London, England the Barbarians are not so much at the gate. They hurdled it several years ago and now they sit among their own detritus, slobs who don’t care what you think. There are many signs of this in public transport, the great leveller that applies to pauper or prince attempting to get around this enormous, crammed city. The signs are omnipresent: feet on seats, discarded newspapers, rampant consumption of trans-fat laden fast food, slurping on noxious liquids and, worst of all, casual abuse of electronics.

The train I take has what is called a ‘quiet carriage’. It is marked quite clearly as being for passengers who would rather than not hear the audio seepage of earphones or one-sided mobile phone conversations. But the quiet carriage these days is no such thing. Earphones leak out a percussive tinnitus sound. Phones ring, bleep, blast samples of godawful music that precede conversations of the frankly, unapologetically thick. These conversations go on for several minutes until they are cut off by a merciful tunnel or end in a desultory stalemate. Intermittent sounds from game devices complete the aural assault.

This is not just annoying but enormously disruptive. Some of us want to read or work on the train but we are disrupted from all angles. It’s not civilised, like a lot of London today. England used to be a country where manners applied. We still queue some of us, albeit in a ragged way, and good citizens will still tell bar staff if a fellow drinker preceded them at the counter. But I do believe that passengers’ e-habits signal that “the last of England”, as the poet and travel writer Ted Walker described it, is approaching.

It would be easy enough for the train providers to jam signals or enforce quiet-carriage etiquette with staff patrols. They could perhaps provide one warning to miscreants and maybe a cattle prod for second crimes and confiscation or worse for serial offenders. If not then why bother with the quiet carriage at all? Is it just a token gesture to be widely ignored by all of us? A quaint remnant for tourists to capture on camera like ‘Mind the Gap’ signs?

Just as the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, the price of freedom to use electronics should be a willingness to compromise on usage in shared spaces.


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Torquemada, not his real name, has been casting a jaundiced eye on the technology world since the Sinclair C5 was causing as much excitement as the driverless car today, a 64K RAM pack could turbocharge performance, and Alan Sugar was the equivalent of Elon Musk.

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