Riding the bus in an age of transparency

Being an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I am always trying to engage my students on relative topics in a contextual form, and I have an abundant amount of materials with which to work. Recently we have been discussing the usage of mobile phones based on a chapter of our text book. We discussed in which locations and situations they are either appropriate or not to use. One scenario seems to be a source of mixed opinions not only for international students, but also the citizens of San Francisco: riding the bus. In using MUNI as my main means of transit around this fair city, one will notice that people act in a variety of ways. I personally get off my phone before boarding the bus, or sometimes will chat quietly if the bus is relatively uncrowded. Some people seem to follow a similar, simple method: speak discretely or stick to texting. However, there is also a wide range of people within a spectrum of folks who speak quite loudly and openly on their phones, with some sort of consciousness that the other passengers are then privy to this form of communication, thus engaged on some level. People talking about their family drama, about their favorite TV show, about their day… talking to someone but certainly nobody on the bus. Internationally, we seem to be working with this concept of how much space we are taking up while in each others space. Everyone is privy to details, as long as they are tied to some electronic medium. Some people still keep it wide open without the phone or the blog the social networking page. The other day on the #7 Haight Inbound (soon to be discontinued as of 12/05/09, goodbye busline!) a young woman and her friend were speaking quite animatedly on the bus about a woman, and letting the entire rear end of the bus know intimately how they felt about a third woman, not on the bus but the subject of their loudly spoken conversation. Apparently she had traded down for an apartment on Haight as opposed to Cole Valley, and did not her building look like a tenement—indicated by the purple metal railings and front stairwell design. The rest of the conversation was just as brazenly catty, dotted with lots of self-absorbed consumerist details and inanely odd personal details around cannabis club locations and other subjects maybe not best discussed loudly on public transit, even in San Francisco? That may just be my latent paranoia, but nevertheless, it was a public discourse in that all the other passengers were the unwilling eavesdropping audience to this odious trite. Where is the line when we are riding the bus, or when we are on the train or aeroplane? What boundaries should we strive to create around honoring where we are presently, but respect the desires of those who want to be plugged in to someone else not on the bus with us?

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