The Funny Thing About Speakerphones

Imagine this:  I’m in my car driving when my boss calls me on my cellphone. The call goes to my car speakerphone. Her voice blasts out of the speakers and fills the car.

We talk back and forth and then my boss asks:

“Are you alright?”

“Sure, why?” I say. There is genuine concern in her voice.

“Because you are yelling. Are you sure everything’s okay?”

“Oh, that’s just the way I talk on the speaker,” I say, laughing. “I do it all the time.”

It’s funny. We don’t need to shout into our phones. Technology today is so refined, we could whisper and the person on the other end would hear us just fine. Yet many of us shout when we are on speaker mode. Maybe in the beginning of speaker phones, the need to elevate the voice was required to be heard clearly. But not so anymore.

I often talk to my daughter at night while I am preparing my dinner or, most often, preparing the dog’s dinner.  I lay the phone down and talk to her on speaker while I move around the kitchen.

And you guessed it.  I yell everything I say.

“What are you doing next weekend?” I’ll say while I am rapping a spoon on the side of a bowl.

“Not much. Just hanging out,” she’ll say. “Maybe go to the movie.”

I’ll ask her what she said because I am rapping a spoon on the side of a bowl and the phone is on the counter a few steps away. Then, she yells back that she doesn’t have much planned, maybe a movie.

So, I’m going to conclude that shouting while on speaker has to do with the proximity of the phone while one is talking. When on speaker, the phone is not up to the ear and the mouthpiece at the lips.

That conclusion is incorrect.  I did a little research into the matter.

People have a natural tendency to raise their voice level to the noise levels around us. (the microwave cooking, the dishwasher running, the laundry tumbling in the dryer)

And there’s this other thing. It’s actually technologically scientific.

Originally, telephones were designed with something called “sidetone,” a feature whereby the caller could hear his own voice in the phone’s speaker when talking. Landlines have sidetones specifically to prevent shouting in indoor spaces.  Cellphones did not do away with this, but due to the mobility of the caller when using the phone a fixed volume of sidetone is not sufficient to cover the background noise often present.

This is why we overhear callers shouting into their cellphone when walking down the street or sitting in the doctor’s office. It’s annoying, I know.

So why do we do it? You know, the cell yell.

Most of the time, people are not aware they are doing it. Like me, they may not realize it until someone points it out. I’m embarrassed when I think about how I probably make people cringe and hold the phone away from their ear. I talk loudly anyway, even in person. My husband gently reminds me, “I’m sitting right next to you. I can hear you fine.” But there is something about an open phone line that causes me to elevate my voice.

Another reason I tend to shout into the phone might be that I don’t have my mother yelling from the living room to tone it down so she can hear the television show.

Which is what she would have done if I was in the hallway talking too loudly on the telephone.

For me, I feel like I’m talking on a CB radio. Remember those? It wasn’t always that easy to understand the person on the other end. I even catch myself leaning in, like I’m trying to get closer to the speaker. I also raise my voice when I’m talking on Skype even though I’m sitting about one foot from the computer.

It’s one of those things that I try to do but just can’t seem to pull it off— lowering my voice that is.

So, if you call me while I’m driving and I’m handsfree or dial me up on Skype, you’ll get an ear full.




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Constance Camille
Writer, Poet, and Photographer who craves words, and people who love words, Constance Camille hangs her hat somewhere in Florida with her three Volpino Italiani doggies where she writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and a good poem when she’s in the mood. Her idea of heaven is a picnic and a good book. A graduate of the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in English-Creative Writing, she recently completed her poetry chapbook "Other Shiny Things" and her story "The Forger" recently appeared in "The Write Stuff Anthology." She also serves as a submissions reader for the Florida based literary journal "Longleaf Review."


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