What Happened to Silence?

BuddhaEarAs a travel writer, I travel for work and spend a lot of time in transit—hanging out in airports, waiting in cafes, riding in buses, etc. I usually use this “down time” as writing time. I always travel with my netbook so I simply plug in or go on battery power and catch up on the many stories I have pending. It’s often really productive time.

However, I find it increasingly difficult to find some quiet space in which to work. I blame the ubiquitous use of cell phones. While cell phone technology has improved tremendously, what hasn’t changed since the early days of cell phones is the lack of “reverb” that allows us to hear ourselves. As a result, all of us talk LOUDLY into our phones, seemingly oblivious that everyone around us can hear that we ate for breakfast, that our boyfriend or girlfriend stood us up, that we hate our jobs, or any number of private, mundane details about our lives that we unwittingly share with the strangers around us.

I also blame the lack of silence in our culture on “me” focus that seems pervasive. We seem to think that whatever is happening in our lives is what’s REALLY important. And that includes all those mundane details about our lives. It doesn’t matter that what we’re doing impinges on others. We seem not to care.

Work Center Quiet Please

I’m currently in sitting in a business center in the Portland airport. This is a space set aside with electrical plug-ins, free WIFI, and little desk kiosks that make it easy to work. This is supposed to be a place where one would expect a little silence or at least a modicum of quiet so we can work. Not so much.

While there are six of these little kiosks and four of us are working quietly on our computers, the guy at the desk directly across from me is having a private conversation on his phone that has nothing to do with work or business. He’s speaking pretty softly so it’s not too bad. But there’s a guy sitting in a chair around the perimeter of the business center who has been talking really loudly on his phone for the past 20 minutes. I’ve learned that he’s been traveling in Vancouver, he’s tired of the weather, he read an article in USA Today about his favorite sports star, he’s in favor of exercise but isn’t currently doing any, he’s got his golf clubs with him, his plane doesn’t take off for another 2 hours, and on and on.

cell phone

You may not realize it, but everyone can likely hear your cell cell phone conversations.

A young guy and his girlfriend arrives and plugs in. He immediately boots up a movie and starts listening to it without headphones. Does he realize that everyone in the business center can also hear the movie?

Unfortunately, for me, I’m a writer who hears the words in my head so when I write I can’t listen to music or to Mr. Talk Loudly on My Cellphone. I can’t work because this guy is totally oblivious that everything he says is being broadcast loudly to everyone around him.

Obviously, I can’t ask people not use their cell phones. But when you travel, please be aware of the people around you. I don’t want to know what you ate for breakfast. Your fight with your spouse isn’t interesting to me. Frankly, I don’t care what you did on your vacation.

If you must use your phone in the airport, please moderate your voice and speak softly. Don’t have loud, 20-minute conversations. Please be aware how your conversations or your use of other electronic devices might be affecting others. Look around and, if you see people seriously working on their computers, choose someplace else to yak on your phone. If you’re watching a movie or listening to music, use headphones so the rest of us don’t have to listen too. And please, please, let us have some place like the business center where silence is–or certainly should be–golden. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

Image credit: Buddha photo compliments of Immanuel Giel, Wikimedia Commons

Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

RFT co-founder Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. An award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook, Bobbie is editor-in-chief at

2 thoughts on “What Happened to Silence?

  1. Marilyn

    Ah, peace and quiet. In public places, it’s gone the way of the buggy whip (and sometimes in the presence of loudmouths I wish I had one) 🙂 Thanks, Bobbie, these are good reminders to pay attention. I agree, most people aren’t intentionally offensive; they’re just oblivious. Let’s tone it down and stop with the yelling! And that’s the end of my rant, spoken softly. But firmly.

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