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The people who play music loudly on buses must be stopped

Openly blasting music on the bus without headphones for all to hear: minor nuisance, or the worst thing since the Famine?

Though scholars and philosophers have argued about that question since ancient times, I am here to settle the debate once and for all, and confirm that it’s definitely the latter.

I settled on this final (and binding) decision yesterday night on Dublin bus, after being subjected to 20 minutes of what can only be described as “auditory diarrhoea” by a gentleman nearby.

This un-invited DJ for the evening had a set list which included, among other things, a mashup of Lose Yourself by Eminem combined with Hall of Fame by the Script.

Interestingly, the fact that an adult man wasn’t embarrassed to be caught listening to such cringe shows clearly that he had a serious self-esteem problem – namely, that he has too much self-esteem, and lacks any semblance of shame.

This was compounded and made worse by the fact that it was interspersed with YouTube ads, so every couple of minutes the music was punctuated with a bout of “DELIVEROO PRESENTS…”

Other greatest hits included Zombie by the Cranberries, which, while not a bad song, is probably not the kind of thing you want perforating your eardrums after work. “ZOMBIE, ZOMBIE…”

In a sense, this was a fitting choice, because only a brain dead zombie would want to subject an entire bus full of strangers to their own music choices on full-blast after work.

After all, headphones are not expensive. You can get a pair of cheap earphones that do the trick in Flying Tiger for €7, and could probably do even better on Amazon. There’s absolutely no need to hold your fellow citizens hostage with the musical equivalent of ebola. What did I ever do to you, man?

If your earphones are broken, you could turn the volume down to almost zero, and then hold the speaker to your ear so only you can hear it. Or – and stop me if I’m getting too insane here – you could just sit in silence and not give in to your obsession with consuming media 24/7. You’d swear they had a crack addiction.

Now, I wouldn’t be bringing this up if it was an isolated incident that just happened last night. In all walks of life you’re going to run into the occasional weirdo with rude or inconsiderate habits – it takes all sorts, yadda yadda.

But in the last few years, this has become so common on Dublin Bus that it’s impossible to ignore. Almost every route you get on, there’s some pig ignorant solipsist letting Dua Lipa rip like there’s no tomorrow. They think they’re Will Smith in I Am Legend or something – like they’re the only person on earth.

I think that’s really what’s most frustrating about it. On its own, it’s a relatively minor irritation in the scheme of things – but it represents such an ignorant lack of self-awareness, and says bad things about our social fabric.

Having done some anecdotal research (asking people I know if they’ve noticed the same thing), it seems to be a pattern that more and more people are picking up on, particularly since society re-opened after the lockdown.

I’m not necessarily saying that this trend and the lockdown are related, mind you – it could be pure coincidence. But that’s when it seems to have really taken off.

It’s clear that this was already a problem on trains as far back as 2019, which is why, that same year, Irish Rail brought in an official policy to ban the listening of music or videos without earphones.

Back then (which was three years ago now), Irish Rail spokesperson Barry Kenny explained that while it was not a major problem at the time, it was on the trajectory of becoming one in the future:

“Speaking on Newstalk’s On The Record, Irish Rail spokesperson Barry Kenny said the complaints that they receive about people not using headphones are still only in the ‘dozens’ every year, but it is something they’re starting to see more regularly.

Kenny said: “I don’t think it’s a plague just yet… but I suppose the priority is to make sure it doesn’t become one.”

While this is a great solution on trains, however, it might not be as viable on buses. Typically the only staff member on a Dublin bus is the driver, and what’s he going to do? Stop the bus to give out to people every few minutes?

“Off the Richter scale” anti-social behaviour is already a huge problem for bus staff – so much so that some bus routes have even been suspended because drivers are fearful of going to certain areas.

So stopping the bus to go upstairs and tell a load of wild teenagers in Northface to knock off the Calvin Harris is just begging for drama and further problems.

You could argue that we may need to see a return of the bus conductor or a security guard onboard. It might be more practical to have another staff member on the bus whose sole job it is to generally enforce order and common decency.

However, this would be massively expensive and cumbersome, and may not be as straightforward as one would think. I’m not saying I have an obvious answer here.

Maybe one guerilla warfare solution is that when they start playing music, you play worse music back even louder. I might start carrying a bluetooth speaker with me, and the next time a lad throws on some Bon Jovi, I retaliate with Cooler than Me by Mike Posner to drown them out. Street justice, in other words. How do you like them apples?

But whatever the solution may be, the first step is, as always, acknowledging and shaming this problem. It should be seen as embarrassing, and our culture should produce round-the-clock propaganda reminding us that the no-headphone menace are the enemy.

It’s the little things that make a culture, you know. Holding the door open for strangers, saying “please” and “thank you,” giving a woman or an old person your bus seat – manners, basically.

William Wilberforce, who pioneered the abolition of slavery globally, had a lot to say about politeness, in fact. At one point he said:

“God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”

He viewed the two things as connected. Because a society where people treat each other with respect day-to-day will probably get the big issues right as well.

Let’s not ignore the little pleasantries that make our society a nice place to live. Let’s all invest in a pair of earphones today.

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