Three years ago, I took a Bullet train in Japan. While the speed and punctuality were great, it was the passenger etiquette rules that were most impressive.
No typing loudly. No phone conversations. No eating noisily.
Sensory respect for the person beside you – that was the most important thing.
I was reminded of this recently at last weekend’s Madness concert, where the mostly middle-aged crowd at Dublin’s Point Depot created a mess with their phones.
Many of the predominantly over-50s crowd wanted to take photos and videos. It was a lesson in disruptive cack-handedness.
One lady beside me kept using her flash, uselessly, to take videos during songs. That meant a torch on the heads of the people in front of us for half the evening.
Another man beside us kept wanting to check Facebook on his phone at full brightness, shooting beams up into the dark every two minutes.
Someone behind me played a WhatsApp voice message out at full volume.
And so on.
I’m guessing that these are the same folks who beep their car horns as a ‘goodbye’ in a housing estate with kids asleep.
Or whistle in waiting rooms. Or see their phones go off, at the bottom of a handbag, during a play.
So I thought it might be a good time to remind fellow middle-agers of a few basic points of politeness when using your phone.
Take some of them on board and you’ll stop being regarded as the equivalent of the yob who plays a ghettoblaster on the top deck of a bus.
1. Ringtone: Please turn it off. No seriously, do. Ringtones are now usually (fairly) regarded as irritatingly invasive for others around you.
For most of us, they’re unnecessary, too: just put the phone on its ‘vibrate’ setting. Unless you have your phone in a bag, you’ll almost certainly still hear the vibration.
2. Keypad clicks: Please, please turn these off. Imagine an office where the person beside you had little digital noises go off every time they tapped a keyboard key. Wouldn’t it drive you a little crazy?
3. Notification tones: Have you ever sat beside someone having a 50-text exchange, each one producing a ‘DINNNG’? At full volume? In a quiet environment?
Like ringtones, most of us just don’t need these sounds to be alerted – the vibrate setting will do it almost every time.
4. Screen brightness: As irritating as someone else using their phone in a cinema can be, there are times when it seems important to check for something.
Even here, you can make a big difference to the comfort of people around you. Minimise the screen brightness.
There’s a world of difference between a dim rectangle being faintly visible a few feet away and a searchlight shooting up into the air, distracting everyone’s attention.
5. Camera flash off: Would you bring a full size camera into a dim room and starting taking flash photos? You’d draw massive attention to yourself right? This is the same with phone flashes.
The irony is that they’re mostly useless, rarely improving camera photos. They’re especially redundant when snapping or videoing something more than a few feet away, such as a stage. But they’re hugely distracting for others, especially in darkened environments.
Too fussy and narky? Not really. It’s a little like asking someone to stop smoking when they’re seated next to you in a bus or cinema. Or not to play loud music at night. Or even to put on a top at a restaurant.
It’s basic respect for those around you. It’s an acknowledgement that your neighbour’s comfort and needs, which may be very different to yours at a sensory level, are always as important as yours. If you accept that, it’s easier to understand why constant dings or torches going off in shared dark spaces during a performance may be fundamentally disruptive.
What about the argument that those over 50 are still adjusting to this relatively new tech?
Sorry, but the sell-by date on that one ran out some time ago. Smartphones have been in the hands of the vast majority of us – 40s, 50s, 60s and older – for at least a decade. We know how they work.
It’s as patronising to suggest that middle-aged people can’t endeavour to find out how to switch off a setting as it is that they can’t understand WhatsApp or Facebook.
Unfair maligning of the middle-aged? I don’t think so. Yes, younger people do irritating things with phones.
But walking along a path and staring down at a phone isn’t quite the same as using your alarm clock as your incoming call ringtone. And sitting around in a group staring at phones, while it seems odd to older folks, doesn’t actually impinge on others’ comfort the way a torch in your face does.
And besides, young people are constantly getting slagged off by older generations for their use of tech.
So let’s civilise ourselves a bit more, fellow oldsters. Let’s take the Japanese Bullet Train’s ethos to heart. Stop annoying your neighbours with your ignorant phone habits.