Whenever I’m in a public space where folks are blabbing away on their phones, I want to scream. Trains, cafes, busses… they all drive me batty. I’m dreading the day in which cell phones are viable on planes. Or when VOIP isn’t blocked. When I’m forced to listen to half of a conversation, I start fuming. First, I mentally grumble about how rude the person is. But then I start berating myself, lamenting my age, and wondering if I were younger or from a different culture if half-conversations wouldn’t drive me so utterly insane.
Years ago, I read a study (that I now can’t find) about why half-conversations are so disruptive. Your brain is pretty good about tuning out conversations in a restaurant, but it sucks at tuning out just half of a conversation. Y’see – your brain wants to fill in the other half. It worries that it’s supposed to respond and so it listens even when you tell it not to. You can’t just close your ears and blasting other sounds into them may not achieve the desired serenity either, especially if you’re like me and the urge to dance kicks in with the music.
This all makes sense for those of us whose brains stabilized pre-mobile phones. But I can’t help but wonder if this is changing. If you grow up in a world where half-conversations are everywhere, does your brain cope with it better? Does it learn to tune it out? If you grow up in a culture where everyone is always rattling on loudly in public, can you tune out noise better than if you grew up in a culture where silence is more than norm? I’m always fascinated by cross-cultural events involving people from more quiet cultures (say Japan, Finland) and those from louder ones (say Russia, Israel). Do these cultural differences affect your ability to tune out noise?
More importantly, can I be retrained? Can I evolve to not hear those blasted half-conversations? I know that I can learn to tune out car noise after a few weeks in a new apartment. What will it take for me to stop fuming? I feel far too old and crotchety before my time on this one.