Brow Beat

This Holiday Season, Talk to Your Baby Boomer Parents About Their Annoying Cellphone Noises

Do your Baby Boomer parents know that games like Candy Crush still work even with the sound turned off?

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

It’s almost Christmas, which means many Americans have returned to the homes of their Baby Boomer parents, like salmon slipping back upstream to gorge on spinach and artichoke dip. If you are one of those Americans, I come to you with an important request.

This holiday season, have the Talk with your Baby Boomer parents. It won’t be easy, but you can’t put it off forever. Sit them down, look them in the eye, and get serious: For the love of God, they absolutely must turn off all the extraneous sounds on their smartphones and tablets.

If you don’t know how to get the conversation started, here are some sample questions to ask the Baby Boomers in your life:

  • Do you really need audible alerts for every text message, email, and Facebook notification you receive? If so, do those alerts need to be set at the highest possible volume?
  • Did you know that Candy Crush and other games still work even with the sound turned off?
  • What if I told you that FaceTiming in public is considered rude, even antisocial?
  • Surprisingly, no one has been murdered in public based on their decision to keep “keyboard click” sounds turned on as they type. But do you really want to risk being first victim?
  • Is there a reason you want to hear all the notifications on your laptop, too?

I’m definitely not the only one to have noticed the phenomenon of Boomers leaving their smartphone noises turned on. In some ways it’s the classic story about older people hilariously bungling a new technology, which means we should have empathy: After all, that time will come for all of us. But in this case, the haplessness has real consequences: The people forced to share public space with Baby Boomers are losing their sanity.

The cause of the problem seems obvious enough: Boomers have eagerly adopted new technology, in part because they have the money to do so. Younger people may have a reputation for an obnoxious overreliance on their phones, but they also tend to have an intuitive sense of tech etiquette. Boomers, by contrast, are not digital natives; they obviously haven’t picked up on the etiquette norms, and in many cases they may not know how to toggle their settings to conform to them. Throw hearing loss into the mix and you have a recipe for a noisy nuisance.

That’s where you, the offspring, come in. This is crucial, because my fear is that Baby Boomers are not receiving clear messages about this scourge, and there’s no better source of real talk than immediate family members. Be gentle but firm. Keyboard clicks are widely considered infuriating. Audible notifications drive people crazy. Keeping the volume on while you play an iPhone game is unbelievably rude. And that camera-shutter sound really needs to be disabled. There’s a reason a 2009 anti-creepshot bill that would have required camera phones to make a sound when taking a picture failed to make it through Congress. (That bill was introduced by—you guessed it—a Baby Boomer, Peter T. King.)

Or you can keep the message even simpler: Phones should be silent in public. And then, if you really love your parents, go into their smartphone settings and turn off their notification sounds for them. Consider it a thoughtful Christmas gift—not only for your parents, but also for everyone who comes within earshot of them.