It’s time to have a serious discussion, and I mean you, Harold.

Harold, you’re clearly not doing a good job.

CTA Blue Line
Scene of the Crime

That was the opinion of your boss, a salt-and-pepper-bearded weasel, who made three separate and horrendously loud phone calls shifting the blame to you for the failing project during 90% of my train ride home, even getting off at my stop and following me up the stairs and onto the street, graciously heading down another path home after bellowing his lame opinions to 90% of the annoyed riders of car #2 on Blue Line train #147 (and to many of the annoyed families and parents pushing strollers around the park near my stop) and superbly winning this year’s award for “That Loud, Self-Important Guy on His Phone on the Train,” as it’s doubtful any competitors can outperform this incredible display of voluble douchebaggery in the remaining weeks of the year.

Harold, something tells me you’re not the problem, but I feel your pain.

I felt it even worse the next day, when, after posting about your annoying boss on Facebook, your D-Bag Boss sat down right next to me on the train on the way to work and proceeded to dial yet another person to continue talking about you and complaining to someone about you, Harold, being the problem. Not a single ounce of self-awareness that he was intruding on the personal space of several people around him, not just me.

Fortunately, I have yet to see him again.

Yes, sorry, but I’m going to be that guy complaining about the impersonal and clueless nature of communication in the digital age. We can communicate so much more often with all of these devices that are glued to our palms, wrapped around our wrists, and stuck in our ears. So why, with all of this extra practice, do so many of us suck at it? We communicate less effectively than ever before, and louder than ever before.

I’m not just talking about that emotionally disturbed person who rides your train (as she did mine a few days later) who has a very private argument with her significant other that is so public that you’re left wondering if anyone in the train car didn’t hear it. It’s bad enough that people think they need to share their misery with you all the time, but even the more emotionally stable among us (relatively speaking, as always) can be found walking down the street and having a conversation that you clearly have no desire to be a part of, but you are forced to. So many people are talking to nobody on the street, it’s getting hard to distinguish the really crazy ones who are actually just talking to themselves. Sadly, those people may have the more interesting stories that I want to hear.

I’m not blameless. I have been known to take a call on the train, particularly if it’s a family matter.  With three kids, any personal call can be an emergency–that’s just life as a parent.  But as often as possible, once I ascertain that it’s not an emergency, I quickly respond with an “I’m on the train, can I call you back?” Because I don’t want to be pegged as that loud guy on the train. On the train, I have very clear guidelines about my personal use of electronics, and my phone is specifically used for listening to Led Zeppelin and reading novels that I will only occasionally finish, though not at the same time. (I prefer classical and jazz when reading, so the words on the digital page aren’t confused with “Hey hey momma, say the way you move…”)

I don’t get the Loud Crowd. I get them even less than I get grown adults who simply play Candy Crush or whatever other game they’re addicted to on the phone, when they could be reading the news, a book, a magazine or something of value on their phones. It’s a computer in your pocket or your purse with more than 1,500 times the processing power of the one that landed Apollo 11 on the moon, and all you can do is play games on it? I actually understand those people even less than I understand people who do nothing–no books, no magazines, no devices, just nothing. At least they are quieting their minds–something most of us need to do more of.  (I know, because my watch tells me that.)

phone booth
Not just for Superman and Dr. Who

This is why phones, prior to mobility, had booths. It wasn’t just for Superman to change in, and it wasn’t to block out street noise–even buildings had inside phone booths.  A growing number of companies are realizing this need, and a quick Google search yields results like Zenbooth, which installs privacy booths inside offices so that people can have private conversations. The pictures on their web site look a bit strange, with attractive-looking people having happy private conversations in a wooden shower-like box while their attractive-looking co-workers have happy public conversations with each other outside. As strange as it looks, I guess it’s a necessity these days, except for those of us working at home.

It’s time for all of us in the Quiet Crowd to rise up against the Loud Crowd. Practice your best eye rolls. Learn how to say “tuh” and to give people a polite but firm stare that silently screams “REALLY?” Extra care should be taken by those of you in concealed carry states (which is now every state, I suppose). In a world where everything is exposed and loud, it’s time for a strong dose of negative reinforcement, social-wise. The world would be better for it, and Harold might have a better boss, too.