To the People Who Make Noise in Public
Perhaps being loud is how we connect with people. We want the world to know who we are.
I’m on a train between Sacramento and Oakland. I have a bottle of water, am well-rested in a pleasant mood, and I have spent $35 on a ticket — a not-insignificant portion of my weekly income, I don’t mind telling you. I feel grateful to not have to drive, and I’m looking forward to editing an already fine story, submitted to me this morning, which I am hoping to make better given a little silence and concentration. I can’t overstate how much I love riding trains. As a person who has long given up on being excited about things like events and success, train trips are my New Year’s, my Super Bowl, my country-club wedding that my dad re-mortgaged his house for, all rolled into one.
Or rather they used to be.
Before the train starts moving, the teenagers on the aisle across from me have taken out their phones and commenced watching Media. I think one of them is watching a football game, the other, maybe a music video. I am not trying to play stupid old fogey here, I have seen both football games and music videos; it’s just that the noise is significant but not specific. I think I hear people cheering. I think I hear notes and drums. Who knows? The woman behind me is having a conversation on speaker phone. She is loud, as is whoever she is talking to. Maybe this is why they’re friends, being loud is what bonds them.
Because a thing that is bad can always get worse, a man gets on on the train with a little boy. He sets up the little boy with the iPad, and the boy starts watching some show featuring braying, giggling animals. He loves it and his dad is free to read an article on his phone. That’s great. Good for both of them. Is the little boy wearing headphones? He is not.
I am convinced the reason everyone blasts what should be the contained noises of their lives into the world is that they totally, totally, want people to hear it.
I am not asking anyone to like silence. I am just asking people to take the headphones that were provided to them for free along with whatever godforsaken device they’re irritating me with right now and to plug the little metal end into the device and put the little plastic round things into your ears.
Now the teenagers next to me are FaceTiming with a friend. I know they don’t give a shit about me because I smiled politely at them when they got on the train and they didn’t smile back. Whatever, they don’t give a shit about me. That’s absolutely 100 percent fine. Except in this weird way they do give a shit about me because they apparently really want me to hear this conversation.
I am convinced the reason everyone blasts what should be the contained noises of their lives into the world is that they totally, totally, want people to hear it. They want the world to know who they are. Perhaps people who don’t use headphones in public spend all their time looking at their phones and thus feel unconnected. So making noise is how they connect with people. It’s really kind of sweet, if you think about it a certain way.
I supposed if I try really hard I can connect to some kind of empathy about this bad habit and what it means. But to get there, I would have to concentrate, and that’s kind of impossible to do when everyone is making noise. Maybe when I get home I will try it. Except that someone on my block will probably be using a leaf blower.
When the FaceTimers get off, I watch them jog to a waiting car. They seem like nice enough boys. In the car, they will continue to watch their media without headphones. That’s how we’re training them now—it’s okay, it’s just your phone! Everyone has one! And their mother, father, whoever, will probably tolerate it, because how do you stop telling someone to do what they’ve been doing forever? This aural person-spreading doesn’t seem to be the exclusive province of any gender or age, but of a culture that decided because silence can’t really be bought or sold, it just must not be worth much.