“Private Chats”


I am not used to all the conversations I hear around me everywhere I go. People talk on their cell phones as they walk, while eating in a restaurant, sitting on the train, and especially waiting in the doctor’s office with its prominent “PLEASE SILENCE YOUR CELL PHONE” sign. The only time I am spared overhearing people is when they are  driving in a car along side mine. Of course then I have other concerns.

For most of my life talking on the phone was seen as a private experience. Special indoor phone booths with doors that pulled shut were scattered everywhere. I remember a bank of them at the airport. My college dorm had one such on each floor. Clearly we didn’t need our friends listening in on our chats. Outdoor phone booths provided similar privacy.

The house phone had a hand set that curved toward the mouth and was able to pick up whispered words if anyone was lurking about.(Such as a younger sibling.) Apparently today’s cell phones lack this ability. Some people shout into them. Others put the conversation on speaker phone. Now I have the privilege of hearing BOTH sides of the discussion.

I can’t fathom what has changed in the general population. But clearly all the things that we thought were private are now freely aired in public. I have learned about fights, medical conditions, misbehaving children, adultery and shoplifting. I still haven’t figured out the proper behavior when standing near such talk. Am I supposed to pretend I haven’t heard? Am I supposed to comment since the person has shared the details with me as well as the person on the other end of the phone?

Please advise.


40 thoughts on ““Private Chats”

  1. 🙂 I literally laughed out loud when I read you comment “Now I have the privilege of hearing BOTH sides of the discussion.” I have no idea why some people want others to hear such private information.

  2. Oooh, this is a pet peeve of mine! Even now if someone calls me, I generally retire to another room so I do not disturb my husband. It just seems courteous to me. Maybe because I grew up with an 8 person party-line, I like to know my conversation is between me and only one other person. My next biggest pet peeve is people I call putting my call on speaker so I never know who is listening to our conversation. Not that I care, but courtesy!

  3. The best idea Amtrak came up with for their hurried customers is the quite car, i used to run to the quite car when traveling back from Philadelphia. Bruce >

  4. I also detest speaker-phone conversations, and would like to see that feature removed from mobile phones, except for disabled people who might have genuine need.
    My other hate is ‘Facebook Messenger Calls’, which like ‘Face Time’, can use two-way video. All too often, I am required to smile at the caller when the camera is turned to me, or wave inanely at people I hardly know.
    This is even worse if I am half-dressed, or slumped unshaven on the sofa in the morning. I really cannot see any reason for video calling at all.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I have only used video calling once. That way I was able to talk with my sister 3000 miles away to say goodbye in her final illness. We planned it ahead of time. Otherwise I have no interest.

  5. Aaargh, “For most of my life talking on the phone was seen as a private experience” – I totally agree, why is it that people think you will love hearing their inane conversations??

  6. Oh, we no longer have land lines, I had it cut years ago since all of us have cell phones. I love the messenger app. I had it downloaded to my tab but I didn’t upload Facebook there. You can talk to anyone on your contacts wherever they are even without activating video calls. I don’t do video calls. As for the listening thing, most of those who you think are listening are also busy with their cell phones so they probably do not understand your side of the conversation. Neither do I like the speaker phone features. You can change the setting of your phones if you are not comfortable with video calls and speaker phone conversations.

  7. I have only used a cell phone maybe half a dozen times. I end up using the speakerphone mostly because I can’t hear a blasted thing on those stupid things. I can’t wait for technology to change.

  8. I need to get out more. since my trips are usually in the car to where I’m going (often a meeting) and then straight home, I don’t hear too many conversations and (apparently) they’re a good source of story ideas.
    I generally join in my husband’s speakerphone calls to remind him to tell someone – usually the doctor – something he’s forgotten. (He rarely hears me, but the doctor does.) My youngest daughter uses FaceTime to contact me but, being in New Zealand, it’s often at an awkward time and the calls can go on for ages once we get started, since its in time she has free to make calls. (I’m reluctant to call her though, in case she’s busy with her friends).
    I embraced text messages when they were at university (and now Facebook Messenger) as I could give them information without interrupting their day.

    1. I used to assign my writing students to go to the airport(back before such stringent security), overhear conversations or watch reunions and write a short story based on them. You definitely are missing a great source of writing prompts. Pick any cafe and take your pen and paper.

  9. It is not just phones that have changed and reduced privacy, Elizabeth. Think about what people put on social media. I see pictures on Instagram of ordinary ladies in their night dresses. I think it is very odd.

  10. If you are brave you can try this strategy if you are forced to listen to someone else’s conversation. My wife and I discuss what we are overhearing (“He’s going to tell her next week”, “I wonder how she will react” and so on) We get dirty looks but the voices drop and the calls usually get dropped quickly.

  11. It is indeed a conundrum Elizabeth!
    I saw a skit where the actor looked seriously at the person having the loudspeaker cell conversation, walked up to them & started giving them advice on their problems. The conversation was immediately stopped…
    I think people think they’re in a ‘cone of silence’ where they believe those around can’t hear them… How wrong they are!

  12. It’s true that it seems we have to listen to other people’s conversations but if we were to respond to what we heard then THAT would be crossing some sort of boundary of privacy 😂😂!

  13. Also, I was watching an episode of “The Magnificent Mrs. Maisel,” which takes place in the late 1950s, and, in one scene, an important call came through and everyone in the household wanted to hear it; someone said “Get the speaker phone!” and they literally whipped out a box that had a speaker in it that they had to screw into the telephone! I was in hysterics!

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