Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

Cellphone Etiquette on the Subways of Seoul and Taipei

Smartphones are a common sight on subways all around the world.

Even in places where cell signals are scant or nonexistent, the versatile devices are being used for playing games, listening to music and watching videos.

However, where there is a signal, cellphones are often a lightning rod for controversy: There’s an ongoing debate over how to handle something that can be very useful — and also very irritating to those nearby.

In Taipei, signs and recorded messages encourage commuters to think twice before annoying fellow passengers with loud conversations. A sign depicting a talking cellphone suggests that phone users consider sending a text message rather than talking and, if they must converse, urges them to keep things brief and and use a quiet tone.

On the subways of Seoul, where wireless coverage is strong and ubiquitous, there is plenty of opportunity to talk on cellphones. On the Web site for the Seoul subway system, transit authorities list tips on how to be a polite passenger, starting with using a soft voice and setting cellphone ringers on vibrate.

Instead of talking, many transit passengers opt to use their phones as on-the-go TVs, utilizing Korea’s unique mobile video service, known as Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB).

In both Taipei and Seoul, it was fairly uncommon to hear someone yakking away on their phone — something I hear all the time on the buses and streetcars of San Francisco, even if service here is a whole lot spottier.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik