Subscriber OnlyMusic

Our planeload of furious citizens sniffed and tutted as the music blared. We’re on a highway to hell

We used to complain about people talking too loudly on their mobile phones. Now loudcasting has crossed the generations

AC/DC: not the least intrusive band. Photograph: Steve Rapport/Getty

I was grateful for bad behaviour encountered on a recent flight. A row or two behind me, a balding man in his 50s, dressed in golf-adjacent leisurewear, took out his smartphone and began fiddling with the keyboard. A blast of music. Well, that’s all right. We have all, when in public, accidentally scrolled on to something noisy before embarrassedly flicking to a less disruptive place. The music kept going. There was no doubt. The “respectable” older gentlemen was blasting out AC/DC – not the least intrusive band – while a planeload of furious citizens sniffed and tutted.

When complaining about what I’m told is now called loudcasting, the tendency is to caricature the offender as a stereotypical young idiot. You know how this goes. We get the usual anachronistic identifiers of callow idiocy. Baseball cap worn backwards. Britney Spears on the mobile phone. Something, something, catapult sticking out of back pocket. The word “millennial” – the oldest of which cohort are now in their 40s – may even be bandied about. Thank you, Back in Black man, for confirming that this appalling habit has now crossed the generations. We can all complain about it without seeming like the old git who won’t return the neighbouring kid’s ball when it hops over his hedge.

This is one of those outrages that confirm how easy it is to live a sheltered life. Thousands of people do it every day. They get on buses and, without headphones, watch TikToks of idiots dancing badly to Dua Lipa. They watch the noisiest episodes of Game of Thrones. And wake up fellow air travellers playing records by septuagenarian hard-rock Antipodeans. But I have yet to meet anyone whom the practice does not greatly annoy. It’s as if urinating in train carriages had become commonplace and most everyone decided to leave the offender to his damp devices. “What’s your problem? It’s not like I’m smoking fags!”

What is happening here is an implicit renegotiation of the public space to accommodate hitherto private noise

To be fair, a little bit of this did go on in the times when you still could suck down a Player’s Navy Cut on the 46A. Is it still okay to use the word “ghetto blaster”? Probably not. But that term, rather than “portable cassette player”, better conjures up an era in which such devices were, indeed, used to broadcast hip hop to all corners. I remember wandering about New York in 1988 and rarely escaping the metallic shriek ­that underscored the righteous anger in Public Enemy’s Rebel Without a Pause. (I can’t say I would have been without it.) If you were working harder to root the current intrusion in history you could point out that folk have been playing their wirelesses at the beach since Engelbert Humperdinck was in his initial pomp.

READ MORE

The comparisons don’t entirely wash. The ghetto-blaster loudcast was, as well as a form of personal entertainment, something of a mild provocation. If not that then a declaration of your tastes and attitudes to the surrounding world. That everyone else could here Rebel Without a Pause – or Smells Like Teen Spirit or Killing in the Name – was not a bug but a feature. There was a calling of attention to oneself.

This may not make the intrusion any less annoying than the current practice, but it certainly clarifies it as being different. What is happening here is an implicit renegotiation of the public space to accommodate hitherto private noise. It doesn’t seem that long ago we were complaining about people talking too loudly on their mobile phones. Now it is commonplace to hear both sides of the conversation blaring on speakerphone. In the blink of an eye conventions have been dismantled.

Gen Z and millennials are drinking wine like grown-ups, while their parents are drinking like teensOpens in new window ]

Obviously, the surge really got going when, a decade or so ago, high-quality internet became available on the move. I would argue the situation became worse recently when mobile phones began arriving without headphone jacks. Suddenly you needed to buy and then not lose tiny Bluetooth headphones. Good luck keeping hold of the similarly minute adaptor for old-school cans. No headphones? I’ll just blast Highway to Hell to all assembled.

Research seems to show that the loudcast free-for-all has caused us to hate ourselves even more than we did before. A survey from 2022 by Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting regulator, revealed that about 46 per cent of people watched videos in a public place without headphones. Astonishingly, about 80 per cent of respondents found the practice annoying. That is to say there is a substantial overlap that hates the blasting of TikToks on buses but continues to do it anyway. Hypocrisy is one of the things that set us apart from beasts of the field. That and contriving endless new ways to be unhappy.