sound out

melbourne in train

transience has afforded me some thinking time about public transport.

i’ve been spending a bit of time on it lately and noticing the difference between transport in melbourne and those systems that i experienced in berlin, london and dubai.

i noticed, particularly, how loud our trains were. and i don’t mean to run, but the human noise level on them. people talk much, much louder, teenagers actually shout and scream at each other on them, so many people have mobile phone conversations on them and there is a general din about them.

and which probably explains why we have far more people with headphones on trains that i ever noticed in any of those cities*

i’ve managed to come up with two quick, simplistic reasons for that so far, separate from a cynical view on the commercial influence of personal music devices:

most of the trains in berlin and london have large sections of train with a central aisle in which many people stand and people sit flanking that aisle. people face strangers and sit next to each other. conversations between compatriots are rarely conducted across the divide, and so the conversations are far more hushed. added to this, the sound of train the underground perhaps drowns out a possibility of discussion, and certainly of mobile phone discussion.

whereas most trains in melbourne have small series of facing banks of seats and a central aisle. in peak hour, people stand in the central aisle, but don’t interrupt the flow of cross-conversation. generally it’s actually quieter at peak hour, because there are more strangers sitting opposite each other, but even still, it’s pretty chatty. 

given that only 4 stations are underground (and thus have access to networks except vodafone), the amount of mobile chatter is also way more than i became used to.

teenagers still act appallingly in berlin and london (i watched a boy spit on strangers into the window of a train as it was taking off in berlin), but they don’t seem to be quite so loud as our obnoxious youngsters, which indicates that culturally, there is an etiquette around noise in public.

even shouting across streets in berlin and dubai was rare. i think this culture of australians as loudmouths comes from our sense of space. we have a large soundspace, born from our stereotypical access to space (which gives me the shits). we’re rarely walking/sitting/being in confined spaces with millions of other people – we walk so far apart that we have to yell. we can’t possible sit so close together that we almost touch – which leads to practically yelling at each other from across a train.

melbourne’s population is growing like mad at the moment – it will be interesting to see in 5 year’s time if this changes the way we relate to each other on an auditory level. will we evolve to communicate closer together, or will we grip tightly to our sense of entitlement at space and continue to yell over a chasm of public space?

*i haven’t done controlled experiments, but for those who may critically object, suggesting that perhaps i don’t have evidence, you’re probably right. but i suggest you read my blog more and remember that i have spent the last 3 years obsessed with how people wear headphones in public. so there.

image credit: sinan229 from flickr
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