Good Media Manners – Using speakerphone in public

Dear Good Media Manners,

I am hoping that you can settle a debate for me. I believe that a phone call is a phone call is a phone call. My boyfriend sees things differently. He doesn’t understand why, when I’m in a noisy place, I use the speakerphone (it’s because I can’t hear the call). He also thinks it’s wrong of me to use FaceTime when I’m out and someone who I haven’t seen in a long time who I desperately miss calls. Can you take a moment and explain it all to him?


Sheryl C.

Dear Sheryl,

This is going to be one of those awkward moments. The kind of moment that happens when the whole world hears something that you wish they hadn’t and they only hear it because you have your phone on speaker.

Sadly, and I apologize for this, I cannot side with you, neither on the use of speakerphone nor on the use of FaceTime. If it softens the blow, I only can’t do the latter because it tends to use the former.
Now I have never tried this, but if you can wear earbuds and have FaceTime not utilize the speakerphone function, I think you’re fine there, but if you have speakerphone on—and I again, I’m going to apologize for this—you’re in the wrong. That may be blunt, but I simply have no other way to put it.

You see, having a phone call is not the same as having a regular conversation. You are, presumably, aware of how loudly you are speaking when in public and attempt to speak at a volume appropriate to holding your conversation without interrupting the conversations of those around you. If everyone around you stops when you are speaking, you may be too late (I readily admit to having this problem).

This attempt at modulation and adaptation to your surrounds (at which we all sometimes fail) doesn’t happen when a conversation is done via speakerphone. Instead, you subject everyone around you to this weird, disembodied voice, one which tends to be overly loud and horribly disruptive to everyone else in the vicinity.

Let me provide an example.

Recently, I was on line at a pharmacy (I’m from New York and so one is on line, not in line) and a man went from a regular voice call to the speakerphone and for the next 10 minutes everyone around was subjected to this horrible story about how the guy at the other end wasn’t feeling well and had this stomach bug and… you get the point (clearly the guy at the other end of the line was the one who needed the pharmacy but I don’t believe the man present was buying something for his friend).

One of the things that we tend to forget in this world where we have our devices with us all the time (I myself am certainly guilty of this, too) is that there are other human beings around us and that they deserve some care and respect. It is okay for you or me or any single person to be made slightly uncomfortable in these situations—not hearing a call as clearly as you might like—so that many more are not distressed.

We really are only talking about slight discomfort here as well. Look at it from the point of view of the person to whom you’re speaking. You’re in a crowded location and can’t hear them, would they hate you if you said, “Hang on a minute, let me call you right back, it’s really loud here and I can’t hear you?” Odds are they would be okay with that, and you wouldn’t upset everyone around you.

You can also examine this from the position of that person in another way – when you put them on speaker, you’re putting yourself on speaker as well. Now, while you may be better able to hear them, you’re also subjecting them to all that extra noise where you are. They really may just want you call them back.

Plus, I don’t think this guy on the other end of the line when I was at the pharmacy wanted the workings of his stomach known to the general public. Does the person at the other end of the phone know that the conversation is being made public?

So, Sheryl, once more I find myself having to apologize, but in the Good Media Manners world, this one is pretty clear cut – outside of an emergency, you don’t use your speakerphone in public.

Wishing you the happiest, and quietest, of holiday seasons,

Good Media Manners

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Categories: Random Thoughts


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