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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

On the move: Thanks for not sharing

The practice of using smartphones or tablets in public places without headphones should be shunned just like smoking or dog fouling, says The National's travel editor 

Watching loud video on your mobile phone or tablet in public places without headphones is plain rude, says The National's Travel Editor. Jorge Pérez / Alamy Stock Photo
Watching loud video on your mobile phone or tablet in public places without headphones is plain rude, says The National's Travel Editor. Jorge Pérez / Alamy Stock Photo

“Excuse me. Can you turn it down. It’s noisy.” The man on the next table at Costa Coffee first looked at me with surprise, as if he couldn’t quite decide whether or not to be angry. “Noisy?” he said. I nodded, and the penny dropped. I didn’t want to spend any part of my Friday morning listening to the loud film clips of a random stranger. The fact that for the past five minutes, this man had casually been using his smartphone as a home cinema, without earphones, was bad enough.

You see, with the ambient sounds of daily life and inane music played by the café itself, there was already enough noise. Any more made it impossible to enjoy reading the newspaper in peace. The man turned down the volume, carried on for a bit, and then left.

This week the Twittersphere was alight with complaints from travel writers about this unpleasant phenomenon. If people want to use smartphones and tablets as entertainment in public areas, why don’t they use headphones? Do they have them in their bag and simply forget to use them, or do they simply not care? It seems that all over the world, a smartphone or tablet is now an acceptable form of entertainment. It might annoy some people, but if other people do it, who cares?

Last year at breakfast at the Hermitage Hotel in Monaco, the ambience in L’Orangerie was ruined by an overweight spoilt brat who had been left on a table with a blaring tablet while his parents ate outside.

Across the world, otherwise relaxing dinners are ruined by businessmen speaking as if they are on stage. Instantly and without your consent, you’re transported into the stress and tangle of someone else’s life. Yet unlike a soap opera, you’re not even rewarded with the whole picture.

Surely, it is the job of a hotel, restaurant, cafe or airline manager to lay down the rules about this kind of thing. They could even have a supply of disposable headphones on hand, for this purpose. Other guests should not have to put up with the stress of having to either endure the disturbance, or being forced to take action themselves.

On the Subway in New York or Tokyo, supposedly cauldrons of selfishness, there are hard-wired rules on social etiquette in public places so that if someone does step over the line, they will expect someone else to come down on them pretty heavily. It’s like smoking or dog-fouling – there is simply no space or tolerance for it.

Unfortunately, the effects of such rudeness are amplified when we travel and they alter the experience. When we travel we are already tired and stressed, and it’s those rare moments of peace, at airports, in a park or on a train, that make it bearable, allowing us to recharge and carry on. But I don’t want to have to fly to Switzerland to enjoy an airport, Tokyo to enjoy the subway or Vienna to enjoy a coffee shop where people talk and read in a civilized manner.

And I have a feeling that I am not alone.