Best News of the Week

Old TelephoneThe FCC decided Thursday that, for now, it won’t permit cellphones to be used on airplanes (NY Times, CNET). Hallelujah! Let’s declare a national holiday! I’ve been seriously wondering whether I’d be able to keep flying with everybody around me shouting into their phones. Apparently 8,300 people weighed in with letters to the FCC begging them to forbid this practice, but the decision, naturally, was made on technical grounds.

We humans are very skilled at directing our voices to the listener. We modulate volume with great precision and we unconsciously aim our voices at the person we’re addressing. But all that skill is lost when we talk into a cell phone. Even thought the listener’s ear is effectively just a inch or two away from our mouths, we generally speak quite loudly. Every time I see somebody doing this I think of people in the early part of this century cranking the little dynamo on their old phones and projecting into the mouthpiece. “Hello?! Hello?!”

In part, this phenomenon has to do with how your voice is played back into your own earpiece — something that early telephone engineers realized was essential to keep people from yelling and which they dubbed sidetone. Some cellphones apparently still don’t produce sidetone. The FCC ought to ban them immediately as a public health hazard.

Call me crazy, but In the meantime, I tend to walk up to the nearest shouter and, very politely, let them know that they are talking too loud. If you’re nice about it, this can work. Shouting is an involuntary reflex and, when made aware of it, some people will respond with embarrassment and make an adjustment.

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