Is conversation soon to be considered antisocial behaviour, I found myself wondering yesterday. Is it, perhaps, already? Now, I like peace and quiet as much as the next person - more, in fact, I would hazard a guess. But that preference doesn't extend to thinking I have a right to peace and quiet wherever I go.
Have you noticed the proliferation of signs on trains - and now in the scrolling announcements too - reminding you to be 'considerate'? This includes not having your ipod turned up too loud, not eating smelly food (that one's on the tube, admittedly - and I did always opine, in the days of non-smoking carriages, that there should also be egg sandwich free carriages too) and not holding loud mobile phone conversations.
Now I have never really been able to understand why mobile phone conversations are considered more irritating that face to face ones. OK, it might be because it's frustrating only hearing one side of the conversation, but that's not really a legitimate complaint, is it. I suspect the idea set in in the early days of mobile phones when a. reception was patchy and people tended to have to shout and b. the only people who had mobile phones were the sort of flash gits who would have been extremely annoying anyway. My contention is that our current disgruntlement with people going hello, I'm on the train, is a hangover from that rather than having any basis in current experience.
On occasion in the past when fellow passengers have tried to make me complicit in their eye-rolling and tutting about people making phone calls, I've asked why it's considered worse than having an ordinary conversation, just like the one that we are having now, and often they haven't really been able to give a reason. But that just makes them more annoyed of course.
However, since yesterday I've concluded that this whole issue is having a sinister knock-on effect. I was on the train, and soneone was on the phone which, to be honest, I hadn't even noticed, when another passenger started berating them for having their conversation 'on a public train'. The caller remonstrated, and I joined in, saying, ' yes, what's wrong with having a conversation?' The phone call continued in a whisper and it was then that I realised that everyone else was sitting in silence. A carriage that was pretty much full, and no one dared speak.
Conversation itself has by extension come to be seen as an unacceptable infringement of other people's peaceful journey experience. Being sociable is now antisocial.