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Let's Stop Bothering Everyone With Our Smartphone Noise Pollution

I was sitting in a waiting room recently when a mother sat down next to me with her preschooler on her lap. "Would you like to play with my phone?" the mother asked.

The child eagerly grabbed the mother's phone. That's fine; screens are a lifeline these days for anyone, young or old, who is left sitting for too long in a quiet, boring waiting room. The old-school magazine rack must be on its last legs by now.

But this particular waiting room was no longer quiet. The preschooler started watching a video on repeat play with the volume on full blast, and the mother didn't seem to think anything of it. "Watch it again!" the child clapped gleefully when the video clip mercifully ended. "Okay," the mother said cheerily. "I know you like this one."

By now, the other adults sitting in the waiting room were looking up from their own screens to glance at the mother, and I'm pretty sure everyone was thinking the same thing.

Hey mom, turn the volume off on that phone because I don't want to listen to your kid's cartoons.

Everyone was far too polite (and perhaps slightly aghast?) to say anything, however. The mother remained curiously oblivious to the high level of smartphone noise pollution that had overtaken a quiet, public space. By the time my name was called, everyone in the waiting room was being treated to songs from Yo Gabba Gabba.

Hey, I like Go Gabba Gabba songs as much as anyone else -- just not while I'm waiting to get my teeth cleaned, I guess?

I wish I could say this is the only time I've listened to today's young kids use their parents' devices at full volume in a public place, but I feel like I'm starting to see it more often. The volume goes up to 11 on the iPod at the grocery store, at the department store, at the zoo, at museums, at restaurants, at the doctor's office, and of course, at the movies. The kids are playing games, watching cartoon videos, or sometimes yelling questions at Siri.

Please, parents: take the time to turn the volume all the way off before you place a smartphone or tablet in your child's hands, because nobody sitting nearby in the coffee shop wants to listen to snorting Minecraft pigs munching loudly on virtual grass.

Our unwillingness to tame our smartphone technology noise is already happening on public transportation from buses to subways to airport terminals. We have a collective smartphone noise pollution problem that goes beyond simply talking too loudly on our phones. Increasingly, we want to go full smartphone volume in public places so we can watch YouTube clips, listen to music, play Angry Birds, or watch our video of grandpa blowing out his birthday candles. "Please quiet your cell phone" signs are for other people.

I fully realize that writing this entreaty makes me sound old, but teaching our children smartphone and tablet noise control (e.g., when we're in public, the volume goes all the way off because that's the polite thing to do) is important. In doing so, we're teaching our children basic phone etiquette as well as an awareness of other people's noise boundaries. It's rude to listen to something at full volume in the public square. If we must do it, then we should invest in a pair of headphones. We're already being antisocial by staring into a phone screen, anyway.

The funny thing is that headphone sales are up in recent years, thanks in part to high-end headsets such as Beats. It's just that we no longer want to use them, apparently.

But this is a workplace blog, so why am I writing a curmudgeonly blog post about noisy phones in waiting rooms?

Well, if today's parents don't enforce proper boundaries around their kids' smartphone noise pollution, then we risk raising an entire generation of future employees who think nothing of sitting in a conference room meeting with their devices blaring at full volume during a colleague's PowerPoint presentation. And they'll wonder why their co-workers, managers and customers want them to turn the volume not just down, but all the way off. What do you mean it's rude?

That's the deal. I'm just sharing what I'm (literally) hearing. We all deserve the common courtesy of smartphone noise control. We can't phone this problem in; we all have to do our part. So let's be kind and find the volume button. Then turn the volume off.


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