Self | Culture
The Decline of Public Etiquette in the Age of Speakerphones and Misophonia
I was stuck in the most annoying waiting room in history.
There was a flat screen TV in the corner, mounted at a subtle crooked angle. Its cords dangled below like dead snakes. It was replaying a two minute corporate loop about their great dentistry and caring deeply about their customers. But that wasn’t my big problem.
A silver-haired man came in wearing a bright, multi-colored Hawaiian shirt. He had two buttons undone, teasing his hairy chest outwards for any takers.
We were the only two customers. My problem began when he sat down a few seats over and started playing mobile casino games on speakerphone at near-max volume. It gave this loud “bling!” every 10–30 seconds. The volume levels varied, adding to the annoyance.
My appointment was running late and the TV was on its 12th loop of the same clip. I have this bad habit of being too nice, avoiding conflict and confrontation, until it builds up and I unload. I tried to just ignore the noise and smile and go to my happy thoughts.
But it just continued. Bling. Bling. Bling-bling-bling-bling-bling! It stopped. I thought it was over. Then I heard the clicking wheel from Wheel of Fortune echoing across the waiting room. It was madness.
“Happy thoughts. Go to a warm, sunny place, Sean,” I thought.
It didn’t work. I turned to the guy and kindly, but assertively said, “Would you mind turning down the phone? It’s not very nice to play that on speakerphone.”
He growled back, “I did turn it down.” Which completely threw me off. Was he referring to a conversation he’d had with someone else? Because I knew this was our first interaction. And why was he coming at me? My face got hot with agitation.
And suddenly — a door opened and a cute dental hygienist peeked her head out and said, “Sean?”
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I sometimes worry I have mild misophonia, a condition where you’re easily triggered by noises and sound effects. Crisis…