Bluetooth Ear Buds and your Cell Phone

Wikipedia defines Bluetooth as “a short-range wireless technology standard that is used for exchanging data between fixed and mobile devices over short distances.” The first consumer Bluetooth device was a hands-free mobile headset that was launched in 1999. Those first Bluetooth headsets were large, but as the technology improved, the size dropped until Bluetooth Ear Buds became the norm. They are a great invention, that allow joggers, walkers, people at the beach, and others seeking privacy the perfect tool. No cords or huge headsets to get in the way of your activity, you don’t bother others near you, and small enough to be carried in your pocket when you are done with them. Back in the olden days, when I was still working at WABC, a set of Bluetooth ear buds made my twice daily Long Island Rail Road trips a bit more palatable. They were easy to use, small, and much better than a wired headset. They are indeed a great way to listen to music, podcasts, or the radio, if anyone still listens to the radio!

Then there is their other use…conducting a phone call while connected to your cell phone! I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of having someone at work, on the street, or in a store, say “Hello,” think they were talking to us and respond, only to then discover that they had a Bluetooth ear bud in one or both ears, and were in the midst of a telephone call! Sorry, but people doing that should be forced to wear a sign or some other outwardly obvious indication to those around them that they’re on the phone and that the rest of us should ignore all talk that comes from their mouth! I know that I have been caught multiple times, and frankly it is embarrassing once you are either waved off by the person, or you yourself realize what’s happening. There are also other issues I’ve discovered over the years. Here’s one, from my personal experience.

When WABC Radio moved to 2 Penn Plaza in early 1989 from 1330 Avenue of the Americas, the neighborhood around our new home was very different from what we’d enjoyed at 54th Street and 6th Avenue. Instead of being a block from ritzy Fifth Avenue with stores like Saks, across from the New York Hilton, and blocks from Rockefeller Center, we were now 17 floors above Penn Station and Madison Square Garden in a much older, undeveloped area. Rather than skyscrapers that housed Corporate America, we were across from the ancient Pennsylvania Hotel, 2 blocks from the Macy’s on 34th Street, and surrounded by small buildings with everything from Pizza places to Taxidermy Supply stores as tenants. New York City was a very different place in 1989, and on the average day, 5 people were murdered, there were 9 rapes, and 194 aggravated assaults. Then there was Penn Station in our basement!

The “New” Pennsylvania Station was basically a basement establishment, under 2 Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden, having taken the place of the beautiful McKim, Mead, and White designed train station in the late 60s. On any given day, Penn Station looked more like a portal to a third world country than a prime transportation hub in New York City. If you came to work too early in the morning, you literally had to step over people, as hundreds (perhaps thousands) of homeless folks used it as a flop house! Many of them were pushed out into the surrounding streets before the commuting day started, but Penn Station was still the home to many of NYC’s best crazies! We joked about it, but there were literally people walking around in tin foils “hats” so nobody (aliens, the CIA, you name the group) could read their thoughts. On a daily basis, I’d see folks giving others furtive looks, yelling at people who were just passing by, and of course, having long animated conversations and arguments with others that nobody else could see! I always said that you could always tell the crazies from the “normal” folks, as the crazies were the ones talking to themselves. Then came Bluetooth ear buds.

In the later years, before I retired in 2016, whenever I’d venture down the 17 floors and take the escalator underground to Penn Station, there were new rules. Now, it was much harder to tell if somebody was nuts or just on the phone. Some of the crazy people were very normal looking, but now, some of the “normal” people acted as crazy as the best of the crazies! Talking in a loud voice to nobody, having explosive arguments with nobody, and making extravagant hand gestures were no longer a clue. They could be crazies, or they could be folks on their cell phones! You decide….

I was prompted to write this blog, when I saw (and heard) a lady walking down our street yesterday as I sat on our front porch in Ocean City. She was all alone, and there was no one around, and yet, she was carrying on an extensive conversation, including using body language for effect! As with my experience long ago at Penn Station…on the phone, or crazy? Remember, when you avail yourself of the latest in technology, the rest of us don’t always know!

2 thoughts on “Bluetooth Ear Buds and your Cell Phone

  1. Hi Frank! Many thanks for a great post. Your comments comparing the outward appearances of Blue Tooth earbud cell phone users with the unfortunate denizens of overnight Penn Station (wow…that brought back some not-all-that-pleasant memories) were spot on.

    It is an odd truism that many cell phone users tend to almost yell into their phones when conversing. Believe it or not, this has actually been the subject of scientific inquiry. It turns out that when speaking in an open public area, we, in general, tend to adjust our voice volume to that of the ambient or surrounding sounds…and usually the loudest sound at that. Combine this with not receiving any direct-to-the-ear audio feedback (as we would through a classic phone earpiece) and we tend to at times substantially increase the volume of our speech.

    As you note, the Penn Station overnighters apparently require no such technological artifices to carry on their conversations and with the signal amplification and increased clarity of reception offered by tin foil hats, perhaps they may be on to something after all.

    Liked by 2 people

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