“Sounds Like You’re At A Party” - Knowing Where We’re Talking To

I’ve gotten in the habit of making phone calls while walking. Talking to someone helps pass the time on a twenty-minute trek across the Stanford campus. I’ve also found this to be a great time to catch up with my family – a “kill two birds with one stone” kind of thing. During these mobile conversations with my dad, I’ve stumbled onto a tiny annoyance. Whenever I pass other people conversing on the sidewalk or on the street, my dad, without fail, will say, “Well I’ll let you go, it sounds like you’re at a party there.” It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, or what time of day it is. Now this is a pretty mild offense, but it does disrupt the conversation. This little ritual has actually modified my walking behavior. If I see people headed towards me talking, then I look to cross the street or somehow avoid the interaction. If conversation impact is unavoidable, then I brace myself. “Sounds like you’re at a party.”

As a self-described ‘mobile learning researcher,’ I’ve spent a little bit of time thinking about the above interaction. I have a few conclusions. As members of different generations, my father and I resolve this conflict between mobile interactions and public space interactions differently (see my post on Rich Ling’s "New Tech New Ties").

To me, in this scenario, the phone takes priority. It doesn’t matter where I am. I know that I’m on my cell phone. I’m in this “mobile space” where the details of my physical space really aren’t that relevant. (This of course assumes that I’m not multitasking – which I think would make things much more complicated). People walking by in conversation are just background noise.

To my father, context and place are key. He may associate phones with a specific place. One goes to a room, or phone booth to make a call. When outside of these locations, those in the shared space take precedence. So while I’m talking with him on my cell phone and he says, “Sounds like you’re at a party”, he might believe that he is now keeping me from other social obligations or perhaps he is afraid I can’t not giving him my full attention. Without more context clues, he defers to those around me.
For me, it may be ok to walk past someone and ignore them, because the phone alters my participation in the physical space. “Sounds like you’re at a party” seems to represent a shifting balance from social obligations to those in the physical space, to those in the mobile space.

So how about you? Has anyone had similar interactions or an alternate explanation?



  1. I love the link to the previous blog.

    For me, when I'm at a party I try to hide in a closet or go outside when I receive a call so that the person I'm talking to doesn't realize where I am. If a phone call is only going to last 5 minutes, then the least that I can do is give them my full attention for that small piece of the night. It's one of those situations where the other person doesn't want to be intrusive, but in some cases I don't mind being interrupted.

    Doug: Hi Rollo! When can we launch O.S. part 3?

    Cynthia: Hallo Rolf. Rolf is a very German name. Tell him that. Ask him if his ancestors are German. Sort of. [something in German from Doug]. *Laughing around the room*

    Great Blog!

    Beautifully furnished says Cynthia. (I agree).

  2. Thanks for the comments, Danny, Doug, and Cynthia. Now Danny, you bring up an interesting point. On a landline phone, a caller either is intruding, or isn't. With mobile phones, you can move in and out of different environments while on the same call. A caller has a tough time knowing if they've suddenly become intrusive as the person they're speaking with moves to a new place. Unless... you create an impromptu phone booth by jumping into a closet.