Tell loud headphone users on mass transit to turn it down?
May 9, 2008 10:49 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever been riding on mass transit next to someone whose headphones are so loud you can hear them several feet away? If so, do you ask them to turn it down?
posted by shivohum to Travel & Transportation (49 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
If two people on the same car were having a conversation at the same decibel level, would you scold them?
posted by aswego at 11:00 PM on May 9, 2008


Most definitely not.
posted by 913 at 11:01 PM on May 9, 2008


Have you ever been riding on mass transit next to someone whose headphones are so loud you can hear them several feet away?

Countless times. It's the nature of cheap headphones and being in close proximity in public space.

If so, do you ask them to turn it down?

Never. It's the nature of cheap headphones and being in close proximity in public space.
posted by scody at 11:09 PM on May 9, 2008


No, I would never.

But I always wonder if they know (or care) about how that volume level of sound causes hearing damage.

Would it matter if the bus put ads up about it?
posted by mildred-pitt at 11:11 PM on May 9, 2008


....as a public service about - "it's not fun to be deaf"
posted by mildred-pitt at 11:12 PM on May 9, 2008


I think it's genuinely obnoxious, but I've never said anything. Not because I think I'm outside my rights to, but because I figure anyone who's obnoxious and inconsiderate enough to do that is probably not someone who's going to respond to a polite request, and loud headphone music just doesn't seem worth getting stabbed over. It just seems like a situation that could get ugly quickly.

Some open-cup headphones serve pretty admirably as external speakers (and I've seen people using them that way, too); they are pretty clearly not what the "no music devices without earphone" rules in most public places were going for.

But if you don't pick your battles, you'll eventually end up dead in a gutter.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:14 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I know how you feel! (I've got it worse, actually--I can't stand to be around people eating crunchy foods, so I have to stay away from movie theaters and all those hogs with their damn popcorn!) But it's not like you would tell two people having a conversation next to you not to talk because you can hear them. Yeah, part of it is that it's a certain annoying range of frequencies, but the way I see it, it could be worse; if that guy next to you didn't have the headphones he might have a boombox, or he might be on a cell phone, or, ugh, might be singing! Count your blessings and just try to let it go...some nice low-volume music in your own headphones can go a long way.
posted by troybob at 11:20 PM on May 9, 2008


1: Nearly every day.
2: No, never.
2a: I have seen someone threatened with violence for doing so (although the asker was not particularly politic in the phrasing of his request.)
Unasked for 3: But you know what I hate? People listening to music on their cell phones on the bus. Seriously, they sit there with their cell phone open on their lap, playing music out of the speaker. Super annoying. But I still don't say anything.
posted by agentofselection at 11:29 PM on May 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


Here's an article from a couple of years ago about a then-new law in NYC.

"Under the new regulations, if another person five feet away can hear noisy headphones, the owner will be subject to fines ranging from $50 to $525. Fines start at $50 to $175 for the first violation, $100 to $350 for the second violation and $150 to $525 for the third and any following violations."

I'm not sure if the law is in effect, or what enforcement is like, but it's maybe worth knowing about.
posted by ManInSuit at 11:55 PM on May 9, 2008


Unasked for 3: But you know what I hate? People listening to music on their cell phones on the bus. Seriously, they sit there with their cell phone open on their lap, playing music out of the speaker. Super annoying. But I still don't say anything.

I find that you get a pretty good response when you ask the offender if they are going to answer their phone already. But that's from a very limited sample size of about 3 people. you get a WTF style look as if they are trying to come up with a comeback of sorts, but then it results in a glare and music being turned off.
posted by cholly at 12:36 AM on May 10, 2008


Yes, for five hours on a inter-city train, from two sources - one in front of me, and one across the aisle to my left. Before he fell asleep, the guy sitting next to me as well.

It was torture. But no, I didn't ask. I decided that next time, I'll have to get an mp3 player for that purpose for myself, though I don't usually like to use them (don't like plugs in my ears, and I'm usually reading in situations like this).
posted by taz at 1:02 AM on May 10, 2008


I've asked a couple of times on long-distance train journeys in the UK where it seemed like I was likely to be putting up with it for an hour or more if I didn't ask, and the carriage was otherwise quiet. Both times the music was turned down, but I got a scowl, despite asking very nicely.

Tube or bus journeys are shorter, and are intrinsically noisier and less comfortable anyway so it's unlikely that I would ever ask under those circumstances.
posted by tomcooke at 1:19 AM on May 10, 2008


Unasked for 3: But you know what I hate? People listening to music on their cell phones on the bus. Seriously, they sit there with their cell phone open on their lap, playing music out of the speaker. Super annoying. But I still don't say anything.

I hate that, too. I don't usually say anything but last week I was on BART and someone was playing music out of his cell phone speaker than (seemingly) rapping along with it. I got the sense it was being recorded. It was loud and totally obnoxious. Several people moved. At length, I asked him if he might please turn the music down.

His response?

"Fuck off. Move like the other white bitch."

No one batted an eyelash.
posted by arnicae at 1:35 AM on May 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


I would start humming along if I knew the song.... works wonders. When the neighbor girls argue like sorority girls I blast obnoxious Japanese girl band music for 5 minutes or so... they shut up... better than telling them to be quiet. I suspect the same would work here, some sort of "yes I can hear your crap" and "I don't want to hear your crap" might work...
posted by zengargoyle at 1:35 AM on May 10, 2008


Yes, no.

I also sometimes sing or groove along, but not because I'm curmudgeonly and hating on their music, but rather because music is awesome, and it would be a good thing if we removed some of the barriers to enjoying it in public.

That only happens when I'm in an exceedingly good mode though, which, since I'm riding the bus, is almost never. I do it in the car too, though, much more frequently.
posted by !Jim at 1:46 AM on May 10, 2008


On one occasion an elderly woman on the train asked me to turn my music down. I took it as a reasonable request and did as she asked. I also then invested in a set of Skullcandy earbuds which seem to have less 'sound leak' (there's probably a technical term for this, but I don't know what it is) than the Apple earbuds I was using. This is not an advertisement for Skullcandy earbuds, but simply an acknowledgment that with a little bit of preparation I can listen to music at the levels I enjoy without annoying anyone else in the process.
posted by planetthoughtful at 2:09 AM on May 10, 2008


Noise-cancelling headphones really work, and allow you to get your on-bus reading done in eerie silence.
posted by flabdablet at 2:37 AM on May 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


Always fun, though, to watch people trying to flag the attention of the perpetrator when not in his or her line of sight.

"Hey, you! You! Hey! With the headphones! Turn it--I can hear--I said I can hear--Can you turn that thing down please? Excuse me!"

Times like this, headphones seem the perfect weapon, spreading annoyance to others even as they remain impenetrable to foreign attack themselves.
posted by roombythelake at 2:54 AM on May 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Personally, I recommend dancing - badly - in front of them, humming along with the music. Only works in standing room only trains, and when you have zero self-conciousness of making a tit of yourself.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:59 AM on May 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


It is almost always, in my case, a teenage kid. So I don't say anything. I probably wouldn't for an adult either.
posted by k8t at 3:19 AM on May 10, 2008


There was (maybe still is?) a Toronto TTC bus driver who'd ask passengers to turn it down in a very annoyed manner. He once yelled at me when I was at the back of the bus; pretty sure he couldn't have heard my headphones.
posted by scruss at 4:50 AM on May 10, 2008


I let them ruin their hearing. The drawback to that is the volume will get increasingly louder over the years it takes to make them stone deaf.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:53 AM on May 10, 2008


On the bus, a girl about eight years old had music blasting into her ears. I was pretty sure she was with an older brother and asked him to intervene, for the sake of her hearing. He looked startled, since we aren't acquainted, but he did turn down the sound.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:07 AM on May 10, 2008


1. All the time. 2. Not on mass transit, though I will ask them to turn it down if I'm in a public library, though.
posted by Prospero at 6:01 AM on May 10, 2008


No... why would I ask them to turn it down? It's their ears they're damaging. Perhaps they don't even realize you can hear it - cheap headphones tend to do this. If it really annoys you I'd suggest getting headphones of your own.

This has actually happened to me once. I was sitting there, minding my own business, when this old guy sitting in front of me turned around and motioned for me to remove my earphones. I was positive he couldn't hear my music, but he then started ranting about my generation and how we're always listening to this shit (his words) and that we'll all be deaf by 40. It was the most bizarre, uncomfortable and ultimately ineffective random conversation I've ever had on the bus. Ironically, he was shouting.

Finally, regarding the people who blast music from their phones:

1. They deserve to be yelled at. The bus is a confined, public space.
2. It's always really obnoxious rap music, without exception. They frequently sing along. Badly.
3. Whenever I've seen a regular on one of the buses I take do this, they infallibly switch to headphones within a week or two. I'm assuming they get yelled at.
posted by wsp at 6:13 AM on May 10, 2008


You could just hand them one of these. They'll need it sooner or later.
posted by Gungho at 6:16 AM on May 10, 2008


Yeah, singing along badly is your only hope, else they'll tell you to fuck off.

I also pray for complete hearing loss to take them quickly.
posted by notsnot at 6:28 AM on May 10, 2008


Yes and yes.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:55 AM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I used to get this all the time, but since I moved to in-ear noise cancelling headphones, the person next to me could be on fire and screaming for all I can tell. Even Madrid metro buskers don't register. And no one else can hear what I'm listening to either. I mean, if you're looking for solutions.

I've told one guy off when he was blaring out really tinny music out of his mobile phone while sitting next to me on a bus. He did not respond well (typical teenage chav response), but eventually caved in when other people joined me in complaining. I mostly complained about the bad sound quality rather than the noise.

But I always wonder if they know (or care) about how that volume level of sound causes hearing damage.

If you're using standard Ipod headphones, the music doesn't even need to be loud. They're designed with this purpose in mind.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:04 AM on May 10, 2008


I am hearing impaired (from birth) and I wear hearing aids. I am often completely unaware that my music is at a volume others can hear. This has been pointed out to me, though not on public transportation, and not by strangers (once at work, several times while riding in private vehicles). I was embarrassed and immediately turned it down or off. I would react the same way on public transportation. I don't want to interfere with anyone's space. The particular person you saw is probably not hearing impaired (yet!) but please do realize that some people aren't trying to be rude.
posted by desjardins at 7:22 AM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


To those who suggest noise-canceling headphones: I have some, I love them, but they don't solve this sort of problem for me. They solve it if I listen to music, but I can't read or work and listen to music at the same time*. If I put the headphones on and don't listen to music, the noise canceling muffles other-people's music, but it doesn't silence it.

The muffled sound may help some people. For me, it makes the problem worse. But then I'm more bothered by someone whispering in a movie theatre than if they talk out loud. (Though both bother me.)

So it depends how sensitive you are and which sound-spectrums bother you the most.

To answer the question: yes, I'm continually bothered by this. I'm also bothered by the people who hum to themselves, the people who drum on their briefcases, and the various bleeps and bloops from people's electronic devices.

No, I don't say anything. If I did, I'd be continually getting into conflicts.

*if you can't concentrate on your book (or whatever) while listening to music, try noise-canceling headphones and some "ambient" sounds: a waterfall or something like that. It wouldn't work for me. It would stop from being able to concentrate on my book. But I think I'm more messed up than most people this way. You can also try earplugs AND noise-canceling headphones.
posted by grumblebee at 7:51 AM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I rarely say anything, but that's because I most often encounter in a plane where the flight attendant does say something, or somewhere where I won't have to listen with it for more than a few minutes. I was on a train back from Chicago this winter, though, where this woman had her music up really, really loud on a completely full train. It just kept getting louder and louder until eventually you could hear every swear word in the song. At that point one of the high school kids I was chaperoning leaned across the aisle and asked her to turn it down. The woman was pretty rude about it, but the kid was very polite and stuck to her guns and eventually the woman turned it down. Everyone around the kid applauded a little bit. I was so proud of her.
posted by lilac girl at 8:09 AM on May 10, 2008


Yes, I have. I have not asked them to turn it down, because I'm a wuss. Besides, now we have new levels of obnoxiousness to deal with. The cell phones with music over the speaker sounds terrible, glad I haven't had to experience that. (crap like this is a large part of why suburbanites like me still drive their polluting, single-occupant cars miles every day). "Move like the other white bitch?" Uh, yeah, no thanks.

It's not limited to public transit, either. On airplanes, I have had to get attendants to tell parents to not play their DVD PLAYERS through the speakers for the kids. WTF? Since when is it OK to just play a movie with full volume in a shared space?
posted by rhys at 8:41 AM on May 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Since when is it OK to just play a movie with full volume in a shared space?

These people are used to watching movies at home. This same type of person talks constantly during movies at a cinema or (reserving a special place in hell in the process) during live theatre.
posted by oaf at 9:22 AM on May 10, 2008


The idiots that play back 32kbps gangsta rap mp3s on their tinny cell phones - arrrrrrrggggghhh! They tend to be the same people that talk to themselves loudly (why is this so concentrated in the inner city?) and shove one another in the middle of the Metro. They also tend to stand on the left side of the elevator and/or walk between the cars mid-ride for no discernible reason. Some people just suck at public transit and respecting other peoples' space generally. I vote we grind them up for fuel to continue powering the now blissfully quiet train and bus system.

But yeah, asking them to turn it down really doesn't work because more often than not they're just as inconsiderate conversationally. Mocking them seems to be the only language they respond to. Do a dance, sing along deliberately off-key, whatever it takes. Works better when you're with a few friends.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:37 AM on May 10, 2008


I think some of the reactions in this thread are plain sad. Sure, using public transit makes you step out of your special little private bubble. But it's part of the experience of being around other people. I don't think anyone is entitled to a silent, sterile existence unless they want to move to the uninhabited tundra somewhere. Being in close proximity to other people can be funny, weird, educational, frustrating, an exercise in tolerance, and just plain humanizing. For those of you who get all wound up about someone else's music leaking out of their headphones, maybe you should subject yourselves to the rest of us more often if only to learn that the vast majority of people are just like you. Also, there are specialists who can help you get those underpants unbunched.
posted by loiseau at 9:45 AM on May 10, 2008 [8 favorites]


1. All the time.
2. Most often the person doing this looks like a thug, so I keep my mouth shut.

I have an ipod, but I don't like bringing it out in public--though I have a few times when the blind crackhead with the horrible voice comes into the yellow line locals.


Under the new regulations, if another person five feet away can hear noisy headphones, the owner will be subject to fines ranging from $50 to $525. Fines start at $50 to $175 for the first violation, $100 to $350 for the second violation and $150 to $525 for the third and any following violations."


This is one of the myriad laws which are not enforced in NYC. Derail---the full no swipe selling laws have been posted, but the second part seems to give the vermin who have been doing this impunity if they've jammed the Metrocard machines.
posted by brujita at 10:04 AM on May 10, 2008


On Tri-Met buses in Portland, Oregon, the drivers regularly ask people with loud music leaking from headphones to turn it down.

They're braver than I am ;-)
posted by frosty_hut at 11:33 AM on May 10, 2008


those of you who get all wound up about someone else's music leaking out of their headphones

I'm guessing you haven't been on the subway in New York.

I think I may have just come up with something to counteract this problem, though.

Can't Get You Out Of My Head.

By the Flaming Lips.
posted by oaf at 11:39 AM on May 10, 2008


Sure, using public transit makes you step out of your special little private bubble. But it's part of the experience of being around other people. [...] Being in close proximity to other people can be funny, weird, educational, frustrating, an exercise in tolerance, and just plain humanizing. For those of you who get all wound up about someone else's music leaking out of their headphones, maybe you should subject yourselves to the rest of us more often if only to learn that the vast majority of people are just like you.

I would agree with this, down to the scolding tone, were it not the case that part of the reason I almost never wear headphones in public spaces is because I'm actively trying to expose myself to the experience of other people. Headphones serve as mechanisms of isolation for their users in addition to their primary use as music. People who wear headphones pretty clearly don't want to participate in the public space at the time; people who wear loud headphones are effectively reminding you, unintentionally, that there's someone who's actually carved out their "special little private bubble" in a public space, at the cost of altering that public space through their music. (Note that no one in the thread is complaining about people who talk loudly in public, even though that can be much louder than headphone music can be.) It's probably the selfishness implied by the noise to which people are responding so viscerally, rather than the noise in and of itself.

Like I said above, I'm not fond of hearing other people's headphones, though it doesn't irritate me enough to complain about it on a train or a bus, and I've come to expect that tinny background noise whenever I travel. But I understand where people who are more militant about it are coming from.
posted by Prospero at 11:48 AM on May 10, 2008


A P.S. to my post directly above--the other day, I was waiting to pick up my takeout order in a Chinese restaurant when a group of teenagers walked in, one of whom was carrying an iPod and a pair of external speakers. They sat down in chairs, turned on the iPod, and began chattering to each other while listening to the Beatles ("Paperback Writer", IIRC). It was supremely odd, but no one in the restaurant seemed to be annoyed by it. Maybe it was just because they were listening to the Beatles and not something more offensive to some tastes, but it might also be because even though they were listening to music, they were still participating members of the public space.
posted by Prospero at 11:58 AM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


If I put the headphones on and don't listen to music, the noise canceling muffles other-people's music, but it doesn't silence it.

grumblebee et al, be aware that there are different grades of capability in noise canceling headphones. I have a $50 Sony pair from about 5 years ago and they're basically good enough to use on flights to take out the worst of the engine noise. My sister got a pair of $250-ish Bose NC3 headphones in late 2006 and the improvement was astounding -- it just sucked the sound out of my head, even when used in what had seemed like an already quiet living room. But spoken word (i.e. random sound) still made it through quite a bit.

These days I'd wager that they've improved to the point that they do indeed cancel even spoken word and music and other random noises. I can't wait to buy a new set and employ them when the yahoos at work start gabbing about politics again. Really! Tell me more!
posted by intermod at 12:58 PM on May 10, 2008


Yes, and no I'm too scared. If they're doing it in the first place, they probably don't give a crap that I'm annoyed by it. So I keep it inside and hope that someone else will initiate an entertaining confrontation over it.
posted by eric1200 at 1:34 PM on May 10, 2008


I disagree that wearing headphones is characteristic of selfishness, or that the response to others wearing them is attributed to such. The fact that I wear headphones on public transportation is more a side effect of the fact that I refuse to give in to the selfishness of burdening the world with another car in a time and place where I can get by without it. My ability to do this depends a good deal on leading an urban life, which encroaches quite enough upon any private bubble, or illusion thereof, that I can possibly attain, so I'm going to take it where I can get it. I take 'headphone holidays' now and then, just for a change, and I find that the nobility of 'participating in public space' in this particular venue is way overrated. I think the negative reaction to it, as has been mentioned, has more to do with particular sound frequencies that are annoying, in combination with the general high level of stress we carry--stress that would probably be generally higher were we to disallow such small conveniences.
posted by troybob at 2:06 PM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes, and yes. If having audible music playing is rude - and the comments here suggest that we agree it is - then we must enforce this by asking people to turn it down. Even if they tell you to fuck off, if it happens every time they'll change their behaviour.

Not that I ask people every time, I must confess. Factors include journey time, where we are in the train journey, where the person is sitting, and the volume and content of music. I suspect bystander effect, feeling of shared community with fellow travellers (e.g. regular same-class commuters versus more diverse city-center crowds) and normal racial/sexual/class prejudice all play a part.

Responses have varied from apologies to non-compliance. I've only once been resentfully challenged, but that was by two guys who appeared to be gay, so with my hetrosexual privilege I didn't feel threatened.
posted by alasdair at 5:11 PM on May 10, 2008


I think it's interesting that so many people wouldn't comment. I got called out on the airport shuttle for listening to my ipod at too high a volume - (I guess the earbuds leak) - but nobody seemed to mind the right-wing talk show blaring from the drivers' radio...
posted by Space Kitty at 5:29 PM on May 10, 2008


troybob: my post distinguished between listening on headphones and listening to music that's audible to others. I don't think that listening to headphones in public is at all selfish, as long as others don't hear it.
posted by Prospero at 5:39 PM on May 10, 2008


All the time.

I usually give them dirty looks. However, if i had my earphones on to loud I would hope that some one would politely ask me to turn them down.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 8:36 PM on May 10, 2008


Happens every time I step onto public transport, but I only bother to say anything on long train journeys. Especially in the 'quiet coach' where you know the passengers and train staff will definitely back you up.

On a recent trip to London, some kid was blasting music from portable speakers, despite having a set of headphones plonked on the table in front of him - since he didn't look very hard, I had a go, and ended up properly shouting at him until he stopped. At which point, I got a round of applause from the other folk in the carriage, and an elderly couple bought me a gin and tonic from the buffet car! So, intervening in these situations can turn out well (feel free to remind me of this comment when I get stabbed on a bus for trying it with the wrong scally).
posted by jack_mo at 12:28 PM on May 11, 2008


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