How three rude iPhone users ruined an evening

Is it now entirely acceptable to play videos on your phone in public, full volume and without headphones? It seems to be.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
Have phones given us too much permission to be rude? (Image: ZDNet)

I just wanted a quiet evening.

A little pasta and salad, a glass of wine, and a chat with one of the more urbane bartenders in the world.

This little Italian restaurant near my house is unassuming. Some of the staff have worked there for more than a decade. 

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It's a very nice place to sit at the bar, read your novel about a gruesome murder in a convent, and muse about life's extreme nonsense.

It was a busy night. I took the only remaining seat at the bar. Cristiano the bartender and I exchanged our usual pleasantries about why Real Madrid is one of the worst soccer teams in the world. (He disagrees.)

I read for a few minutes, until loud music interrupted.

No, it wasn't the restaurant's sound system. It was the man next to me, who was watching a surfing video on his iPhone. The volume was on full blast. Headphones were nowhere to be seen.

When the video finished, he turned around, apologized profusely and explained he needed an ego boost from his bygone professional surfing days.

I'm kidding, of course. He played another surfing video. Yes, complete with loud music.

I find this sort of thing perplexing. I don't want to annoy others, save, some might grunt, when I write this column. Yet it seems that the constant presence of phones has given people permission to pretend there's no one in the world but them.

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After a few minutes, Cristiano gestured to me that another seat had opened up on the other side of the bar.

My pasta, Pinot and I moved over. Peace was restored. Even more so, when the surfing video surfer called for his check and left.

A few minutes later, Nirvana.

No, not the heightened state of joy. The band, playing loud from someone else's iPhone. I looked over and a man had sat down two seats from me and was, yes, watching videos on his phone at full volume.

This time, they weren't surfing videos. They were just, as far as I could see, YouTube videos of various bands.

I confess I turned my head toward him and arched an eyebrow. He didn't even look up.

Please, tell me it's just me. Tell me that I haven't caught up with the brave new world of everyone living out loud in their own web-based bubble.

Tell me that this is acceptable modern behavior and I just don't get it. No, these people couldn't be bothered to put on headphones because there was absolutely nothing wrong with what they were doing. Right?

Absurdity arrived when two women on my other side suddenly pulled out an iPhone 8 Plus and began to play a vacation video. Yes, set to music. Yes, loud music.

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Of course it's just a coincidence all these people had iPhones. I'm not trying to suggest iPhone users are worse than anyone else (though I'm sure a few readers will). I'm merely stating the gadget-based facts.

In case you're wondering, I didn't flick through my novel to see how the murder in the convent had been committed, in order to pick up a few hints.

I did, however, do what any modern human would. I picked up my phone and (quietly) tweeted a question about this grave new world.

I was relieved not to be entirely alone in being perplexed.

One respondent revealed: "That's why I bring 3 extra headphones with me. So I can flex on them and also do a public service by giving away headphones to those who refuse to use them."

That's extreme public-spiritedness.


Another was less public-spirited. He explained that he regularly witnesses the same phenomenon: "While hiking in a serene natural setting. Shirtless. I wish we had bears in Hawaii."

One Twitterer even suggested public flogging. Which, for a few seconds, made me wonder what music should accompany it.

More people offered their own examples, away from bars. FaceTiming grandchildren at full blast in airport lounges was one that irked.

I asked friends in New York whether this was normal behavior. My engineer friend George said he'd never seen it in a restaurant, but it happens on the subway all the time.

It seemed, though, that I was the only person at the bar who was annoyed. No one tried asking these people to stop. Yes, that includes me. I was too busy asking Twitterworld whether the customs had changed and I'd missed this kink.

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None of these full-blasters was a teenager. I'd estimate they all were beyond their early 40s.

Perhaps readers can enlighten me. Perhaps I'll now have to take my headphones everywhere I go, just to block those in public places who can't be bothered to use theirs.

Or, perish the day, perhaps I'll just have to start blaring my own videos from my phone.

Hey, here's some Van Der Graaf Generator, everyone!

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