What to Buy at the Airport: Something that makes a loud ringing noise

by Kieran Healy on April 8, 2008

So that way, you can do something about this:

The European Commision has opened the door for mobile phones on planes, introducing measures to harmonize the technical and licensing requirements for mobiles services in the sky. This means that 90 percent of European air passengers can remain contactable during flights, according to the Commission. … As a result of the introduction of the measures by the Commission, local regulators will be able to hand out licenses to make services a reality. One regulatory decision for all of Europe was required for this new service to come into being, according to Viviane Reding, the European Union Telecommunications Commissioner. “In-flight mobile phone services can be a very interesting new service especially for those business travelers who need to be ready to communicate wherever they are,” she said in a statement.

As Kevin Drum remarked recently in connection with the possibility of acquiring the power to remain invisible, the question is not so much whether you would like to be able to do this, but whether you’d be happy if everyone else could do it, too. Looking forward, I wonder whether, in a decade or so, people who are irritated by endless yakking on a long flight will be a robust majority, or whether their disgust will seem more in line with Leon Kass and his intense disapproval of people who eat ice-cream in public.



eszter 04.08.08 at 1:48 am

I’ve been thinking about this recently (read some similar announcement over the weekend) and thought: how long will it take for airlines to offer “quiet plane” options (like the quiet cars on Amtrak)? They better think of it quickly. (I wish the Chicago El would have quiet cars, I’d take it more often.)


tom s. 04.08.08 at 1:56 am

I hold on to the belief that most of the chatterers will be in business class so that those of us in the pleb seats can finally get to feel not so bad about the hollering toddlers. Now if someone could mute those I’d listen.


BCist 04.08.08 at 2:01 am

#2 – Yeah, good luck with that dream.


joseph duemer 04.08.08 at 2:11 am

Air travel is already so unpleasant that I avoid it whenever possible. (I’m old enough to remember when flying was fun.) The only beneficiaries of this that I can see will be Koss, the manufacturer of noise-canceling headphones. Future cultural historians may mark a dramatic shift in the history of the West that took place when work time bled completely into leisure time, which we used to call free time, but then noting is free under late capitalism & everything has been monetized.


P O'Neill 04.08.08 at 2:31 am

This seems to be, if nothing else, a gift to the Europhobic media in the UK. They’ll have a field day with it.


Russell L. Carter 04.08.08 at 4:48 am

OMG, the full Kass linked-to entry is awesome. This is where the “ick” comes from. Pretty soon we won’t be able to spit on the street. Let alone lie in the gutter. What will I do for distraction? And I never ever ask anyone for money.

But if you’ve been following James Fallows’ blog, you already know what the future holds wrt universal omnipresent voice phone usage. Hint: talk louder, you can’t hear your interlocuter.

Except at my table.


Kieran Healy 04.08.08 at 5:06 am

We have discussed Kass’s obsessions before.


SG 04.08.08 at 6:13 am

In Japan most public transport has signs up asking you to refrain from using your mobile phone, and to turn it off in the priority seats for elderly people. The polite lady announcer also asks you not to use your phone and to switch it to manner mode.

Most Japanese do this, as they also leave a restaurant before answering a phone call, turn off incoming calls quickly, apologise for answering urgent calls, and message silently. They also talk quietly in public places, and the bullet trains have a silent car. As a consequence, most foreigners I meet in Japan, especially newcomers, seem incredibly loud and rude. I really can’t think why we don’t…


SG 04.08.08 at 6:14 am

… learn more from Japanese manners, i was meant to say in closing.


onymous 04.08.08 at 7:25 am

Do others not find it impossible to talk on a cell phone when someone else is talking nearby? Maybe it’s just me, but I find it very distracting and difficult to hear the person I’m talking to if there are other voices in the immediate vicinity. I would hope that would play some role in limiting the amount of simultaneous cell-phone talking on airplanes….


Nick 04.08.08 at 7:57 am

If recent experience on The Grinning Pullover’s trains are any indicator ‘quiet’ coaches are now the areas where it’s acceptable to shout mezzo-forte into your mobile. Airlines like my former employer will no doubt be falling over themselves to charge pax a healthy premium for the ‘quiet’ club world cabin area . . .


Nick 04.08.08 at 7:58 am

Erm . . .’is any indicator’ . . . obviously


Brett Bellmore 04.08.08 at 10:54 am

I’d say the latter: If you want silence in public, buy noise canceling headphones.

Oh, and I’d be more impressed with Japanese phone etiquette if my camera phone didn’t have firmware forcing it to make a loud shutter noise every time I snap a pic, because the Japanese can’t trust each other not to use one to secretly take shots up school girls’ skirts on public transport if they don’t make an obvious noise.


Maurice Meilleur 04.08.08 at 1:36 pm

Brett: Haw haw haw! Those perverted Japanese.

Seriously, ethnocentrism aside, and assuming you live in an Anglophone country, I would be very surprised to learn that you used a phone widely available or used in Japan.


ajay 04.08.08 at 1:39 pm

14: ssh, Brett thinks “Nokia” is a Japanese name.


Buckminster Fusher 04.08.08 at 1:46 pm

My friend who used to work in the digital camera division of a Japanese company told me the unnecessary noise was because testing of early digital cameras showed people didn’t like them without the familiar click of the shutter.

I wonder why you thought it was to prevent kiddie porn?


rand careaga 04.08.08 at 2:10 pm

I’d forgotten about the squeamish Mr. Kass. Puts me in mind of the communal toilet scene from The Phantom of Liberty.


SG 04.08.08 at 2:18 pm

Funny Brett, both my Japanese phones that I have in Japan have an option to turn off the sound. Maybe you should learn to read… the manual… or does your super-high white boy IQ simultaneously prevent you from reading while enabling you to make obnoxious generalisations about a whole nation?

Remember folks, this is the guy who thinks the Japanese are racist because their gangsters won’t let them pay to shag their filipino prostitutes.


SG 04.08.08 at 2:19 pm

and for those who haven’t been to Japan… in 2 years here I have never seen anyone taking upskirt shots. Get a life Brett you racist prick.


tps12 04.08.08 at 2:26 pm

I’ll sometimes prefer the bus to the subway in NY because you can text during the ride. But I don’t find public phone use as annoying as many people seem to.


Maria 04.08.08 at 2:43 pm

To bring this thread back to the subject, for a moment, I would question how attractive mobile phone use is for ‘business people’.

In my line of work which involves a fair amount of long haul international travel, the few hours you’re on the plan are a magical bubble when you can’t be contacted. It’s a relief because you can get a few hours of peace before all hell breaks loose on landing.

As soon as you *can* be contacted while flying, there’s an expectation that you *should* be contactable, and there goes your precious few hours of peace. I know people who already avoid Lufthansa because it has wireless. Any airline that introduces mobile phone service and doesn’t restrict it – to a couple of hours at the beginning and end of a long flight, or to a specific area like near the galley – has already lost my business.


Psyche 04.08.08 at 3:32 pm

It seems like the very simple solution to this problem is instituting quiet and loud sections in the plane, just as there used to be smoking and non-smoking sections.

Since this is the very simple solution, I hold out very little hope that it will actually come about.


Brett Bellmore 04.08.08 at 3:58 pm

I don’t know, I kinda suspect Sony Ericsson might have some Japanese connections. And I’m pretty sure they sell the w580i in Japan, too. (BTW, I’m bummed out that it’s loaded down with DRM; My old w600i was blessedly free of it.)

That explaination I gave for the shutter sound was straight from the Cingular dealer explaining why there was no way to shut off the shutter sound on the w600i, a few years back. Gee, if you can’t trust a salesman…


Tom Hurka 04.08.08 at 4:00 pm

Re #21:

Fran Lebowitz once wrote that your teens are the last stage in your life when you’ll be glad to hear that the phone is for you.

Either her remark is completely out of date or people’s teens now extend into their 60s.


Maurice Meilleur 04.08.08 at 4:07 pm

Following on psyche’s point, and echoing what others have said about ‘quiet planes’ and sections: if the behavior of airlines over the last 30 years is any indicator, there will be no separation without a premium for someone to pay to get whatever advantage there is.

Which leads me to the depressing conclusion that we may in the near future see some people paying a premium to sit up front in the talking business section, and some paying a premium to sit in the ‘quiet’ cattle seats.

If airlines could further figure out how to charge the remainder a premium, too–the ‘don’t follow the crowd’ fare?–then they’d have the greed trifecta. Of course, at that point the density of their greed would be so great that not even light could escape its gravity.


Maurice Meilleur 04.08.08 at 4:11 pm

Brett: good point. That’s why my Nissan has the steering wheel on the right, since they drive on the letf side of the road in Tokyo.


Markup 04.08.08 at 6:07 pm

Next to the TV Zapper, a cell phone zapper is a real hoot. There is even one that looks just like a phone and provides hours of fun reminiscent of the the Steve Martin joke where he’s asked, “mind if I smoke?…”


cbisquit 04.08.08 at 6:26 pm

Markup I don’t know where you’re from but mobile jammers are illegal almost everywhere except in very specific circumstances(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phone_jammer#Legalities)
I highly doubt, considering it took this long to determine that low powered, targeted mobile use is safe on aircraft, that using an indiscriminate multifrequency blasting device will be smiled on mid-flight.


Markup 04.08.08 at 8:29 pm

I suppose the EM pulse generator is out too?

Obviously (I thought) posted in jest. When the Commons becomes other than civilly social, such as sitting restrictively confined next to someone conversing, even in a moderate tone, with their hand then such things do become more likely. If airlines feel the need to allow for phone use then put in a phone booth (just don’t take away the last of the bathrooms for the chattel class). As annoying as the constantly crying baby can be, we are much more accepting of that aspect of the human condition – cell phones don’t have to be. It’s the same argument as with the neighborhood motorhead that likes to share all 130 db’s of his car stereo while while sitting in his yard. Does his “right” to listen preclude those within a block or two from not?


Anonymous 04.08.08 at 9:44 pm

FIrst, what Maria said.

Second, I am issuing a fair warning: First obnoxious asshole sitting next to me on a plane that starts yakking during the flight, dies.

I am not kidding.


Henry (not the famous one) 04.08.08 at 11:35 pm

On Kass–he needs to read his Feuerbach (in particular on why potatoes caused the defeat of the revolutions of ’48) and Schopenhauer (who had similar things to say about spaghetti) before he tries to tell us what not to eat.


SG 04.09.08 at 12:34 am

Brett, you incredibly clever white man with a high IQ, you! Here, from the w580i Manual available online:

Shutter sound
Choose between four different shutter sounds. The shutter sound will be turned off if the phone is set
to silent. Press and hold [button image] to set the phone to silent.

None of the three main Japanese cell phone providers (KDDI, Softbank, DoCoMo) carry this model, btw.

Just goes to show you shouldn’t trust everything a bigot tells you about Japan, Brett. But I fear we’ve had this conversation before, haven’t we?


Watson Aname 04.09.08 at 9:49 pm

Gee, if you can’t trust a salesman…

Sounds like that salesman got a good read off you, Brett.


Brett Bellmore 04.10.08 at 10:42 am

So sorry for not getting into detail about the fact that I wanted my phone to still ring. Oh, and the phone IS available in Japan, even if you wouldn’t get it from your phone company.

The bottom line for me is: Is it a context where somebody could speak with the person next to them? If yes, you’ve got no complaint if they’re speaking to somebody not next to them in a reasonable tone of voice. If no, THEN I see some basis for complaining.

Really, if you want silence in public, get earplugs.

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