Telling everyone your business

There was a notice in the carriage of the train from Bristol asking that people would use their mobile phones with sensitivity towards other passengers. The woman in the next seat obviously thought that it didn’t  apply to her, or, perhaps, that everyone was interested in her wholesale greetings card business and that everyone would have been glad to hear about her print runs of 10k and 20k. It was a relief when the person whom she was calling told her that their signal was breaking up. The relief was short-lived, she immediately phoned someone else and started talking about brochures that were going to be significant for everyone who used them. A cutting terminated that call.

The train had free WiFi, why was there a need to make the calls at all? If there was an urgency about the orders, then an email would have been just as fast, clearer in its information, and would have provided sender and recipient with a precise record. Perhaps the caller needed to convince herself of the importance of her work, how business depended upon talking loudly in a crowded railway carriage.

There was a time when all business would have been privately transacted. If you were visiting an office and the phone rang, the person whom you were visiting would have told the caller that they would call them back. It would not have been thought appropriate for private business to have been done in a place where crowds of strangers became aware of the dealings.

The mobile phone seems to have changed business etiquette entirely. Perhaps the making of loud calls is a piece of deliberate exhibitionism. Perhaps it’s like the days when stock exchanges were filled with clamour and shouting, when dealers did their buying and selling for the whole floor to hear; the more active you were, the better a dealer you appeared to be. Perhaps the discussion of cards and brochures in a railway carriage is a latter day form of the self-advertisement that would be shown in the days of open outcry on stock exchange floors.

Presumably, the time will come when loud mobile phone conversations will be limited to certain carriages. Perhaps, as in the days of traders at exchanges, everyone will stand up, waving one hand in the air as they use the other to hold their phone to their ear. Perhaps everyone else will be left to enjoy the tranquility of the sunlit spring afternoon.


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