Privacy versus cell phones

It amazes me over and over how easy it is to become part of a complete stranger’s private conversation. And I mean really private.

Today I travelled on an almost empty bus from Lund to Sturup. One of the other three persons on the bus was sitting close by and talked to his partner about his weekend in Lund where he had met old friends from his university years here (I guessed). I could overhear how much he had smoked and drunk the night before, how much some of the others had drunk, whose girlfriend had been most drunk, who had still a crush on whom, how ignorant some people were when it came to certain whisky types ….. and all the time I kept thinking “please, please, shut up so that I can concentrate on reading my book”. Finally he did, luckily – but a second later, the second person on the bus started to talk on his cell phone ….

Some years ago I had to wait for a flight connection at the airport in Tromsö, in northern Norway. I had been on field work on Svalbard, had enjoyed the landscape, the views, skidoo driving, the clean air and the kind of wild west feeling that takes over in this special place, and had no longing for joining civilization again. Suddenly a young woman caught my attention; she was nervously pacing up and down the waiting room, talking really agitated on her cell phone in German, even shouting to the person on the other end of the line. I understood everything she said (obviously this is the negative side of speaking several languages) and I can still remember her conversation. She was divorcing/separating from her partner, had engaged lawyers to deal with the whole process and threw the most impossible words at her ex through the phone. If the conversation had not included the couple’s child, I might have forgotten all about it. This incident happened years ago, and since then many more people have cell phones, and many more share their private lives with everyone else around.

Actually people not only share their private lives with us all, they also share all their other secrets, including business secrets, and work secrets. Sometimes I wonder if all this sharing is really necessary and if people who talk on their cell phones are aware that they are not alone. But maybe they are completely aware of the crowd around them, maybe they want to show to all of us how important they are, how many friends they have, how tight they are with their children and their partners?

Just imagine a world without cell phones. Would all these talkative people talk to the one sitting close by? For example in a waiting hall, on the sub-way, on a bus or on a train? Or, would everyone just be silent for the whole duration of the journey? Is the distance between people increasing, or is it decreasing now that we know everything about each other, without even talking to each other?


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