Monday, 27 October 2008

Ring Ring

I read today in the news that a train company here in the UK plans to coat the windows of trains in a special material which stops mobile signals being received inside the carriage.

I've never understood the fascination people have with describing mobile phones being used in public as "a nuisance". Why is someone talking into a phone any more annoying than two people talking to each other. If the problem were one of noise levels, I would think it should be only the half problem, surely?

I think the problem is more one of frustration at not hearing the other side of the conversation. I don't mean that flippantly; I actually mean it deadly seriously. I think the same thing happens when overhearing the conversation in a language we don't understand ourselves.

I'm not sure we necessarily get frustrated at not hearing the conversation; moreso I think we have an internal frustration that what we are hearing is "noise" rather than "human conversation".

The brain seems to have a natural desire to complete the conversation we can hear half of (or indeed to try translating the conversation in another language) so that we can rationalise what we are hearing. Next time you are sitting on a train and someone is on a mobile phone - try to stop yourself from attempting to piece together the conversation from the half of it you can hear; it's almost impossible!

Of course, there's no excuse for loud ringtones going off on trains. Especially when people seem to like to listen to the first chorus of whichever horrible pop song it is before they deign to answer the phone.'

Perhaps my strangest experience with a ring tone was in Beijing. Well just outside Beijing, actually, up the Great Wall of China at Jinshanling. I'd just walked up a seemingly enormous number of steps to the top of the mountain, and was enjoying the view of the world when I heard a tinny version of "That Don't Impress Me Much" drifting from the pocket of one of the Chinese schoolgirls also making the climb. It really wasn't what I expected to hear!

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