Emily Yoffe: Hey, you with the ear buds, turn it down!
Farhad Manjoo: I’m Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo.
Emily: I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.
Farhad: Today’s questions (that’s right – we have two questions today) are both about the power of one person to unwittingly irritate the rest of us. Our first letter writer has a problem with people who take their sweet time at those DVD machines. “Dear Emily and Farhad, I have a peeve with people who stand at the Redbox and browse titles reading every possible film summary, seemingly unaware of the growing line forming behind them of people who either have something quick to return or who have made reservation to pick up, or are just frankly more decisive. Should there be a maximum time limit on Redbox browsing?”
Emily: A second listener writes, “Dear Farhad and Emily, oftentimes I will find myself on the subway near a young person who is listening to music on their ear buds, but it is so loud that I can clearly hear it. I become concerned about their hearing, but more so annoyed by the sound. Is it rude for such a person to listen to music at that volume?”
Farhad: Let’s talk about Redbox first. Emily, are you the sort of person who either doesn’t notice the line forming behind you or doesn’t care – or do you even use Redbox?
Emily: First of all, I think we should explain what Redbox is maybe for people who have never used one, which I never have. Correct me I’m wrong, Farhad. It’s the machine. I’ve only seen it at the supermarket. It’s got DVDs inside and you rent them and return titles.
Farhad: Yeah. It’s a DVD vending machine. That’s basically what it is.
Emily: It’s a self-contained Blockbuster.
Emily: I’m the kind of person who’s annoyed about everything. When I go to an ice cream store, I don’t even try the flavors. I just go in and make up my mind. I just can’t stand samplers. You have to be very aware there are people behind you.
Farhad: It sounds like you’re harsher about this than I am. I think that if you notice someone is behind you, you should start to limit your time there and, say, give yourself a three-minute time limit. Usually I notice there’s no one in line at those things, or maybe there’s one person using it and you’re waiting behind one person. It’s not like the line is ten deep. So you don’t have to worry about it.
I think that if you are undecided about the movie and then you see someone come behind you, you should say, “Hey, are you just returning that movie? You can pop in ahead of me and then I’ll continue searching after you.”
Emily: Okay. But the problem is, of course, that the person who’s all involved in trying every ice cream flavor or looking at every movie title is just absorbed in his or her own choices and doesn’t notice or care. So then the onus is put on the people in the line.
I agree with you about the three-minute limit. If you stand up there, give the person three minutes to complete their perusal, then I think it’s perfectly fine to say, “Excuse me, if you don’t mind, I just need to return this,” or “I know what I’m going to order. Could I just step in in front of you and do this and then you can get back to your browsing?” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. The person is being rude not to be aware that you’re hanging people up.
Farhad: Right. And the movies they store at Redbox are basically the…
Farhad: Well, it’s new releases. It’s kind of the lowest common denominator fare. It’s not art house movies. It’s not something that you have to do a lot of deep research. You basically know by looking at the cover whether you want to watch it or not.
Emily: So you’re kind of deciding between which Adam Sandler movie do I want to spend my evening on?