Why did everyone suddenly stop using headphones in public?

Once you notice it, you'll see that it's happening all around us almost everywhere we go.

There's the woman on FaceTime at the next table in the restaurant, the man scrolling Instagram Reels during the elementary school band concert, the employee in a virtual meeting at the pool sitting next to someone reading, the fellow commuters or travelers enjoying some tunes – all on speakerphone.

It hasn't been an immediate change, but slowly, more people in public places are not using headphones and just loudly sharing their digital dalliances with everyone in their immediate social space.

With so many headphone options available, it's a baffling choice. Do you really want me to hear all about your mom’s recent doctor’s appointment while we're both in the cereal aisle at Target? All the best intentions about not eavesdropping are difficult to uphold when a stranger in a close radius has the volume turned way up. So what gives?

Doom-scrolling and our phone addictions explain a lot

Smartphones have made it easy to amuse ourselves with even a hint of possible oncoming boredom. Distraction from stresses, worldly worries and other pressures and problems are also right at our fingertips, never mind the side effects of FOMO and doom-scrolling that may worsen your mood.

So why might people choose to watch or listen to something publicly on their mobile phones sans headphones? They aren't thinking about those around them.

"They're thinking about themselves," says Taya Cohen, professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University. But not necessarily in a malevolent or purposely rude way.

"When we have a narrow focus on the content we're consuming or the interaction we're having," Cohen says, "we're not thinking very much about how other people might be affected by that and how negatively other people might be affected – that they might not like the noise, that they could even hear it."

And noisy people doing noisy things in public, disrupting others, is nothing new.

"It just seems now there's more opportunities for people to do so because we all have technology that makes noise," Cohen says.

Are we all just selfish and self-centered? Maybe

The shift in how people are using their mobile phones and personal devices has been acute but seems to be growing more disruptive.

"People are becoming more self-focused," Cohen says.

And advances in technology – as well as increased prices – make it easier to choose to go without headphones, too.

Improvements to microphones, speakers and noise-suppressing capabilities on our phones, tablets and laptops allow better filtering of background noise and overall audio.

But where so many of us are generally unbothered by what others are doing, why are loud speakerphone calls so, well, annoying?

Jail time! Listening to music on a plane without headphones?

"When there's these stimuli in the environment, we want to attend to it," Cohen says. "And then it's hard to suppress that or override that temptation to want to attend to whatever the person is doing. Some people can tune that out better than others, and maybe we get more used to tuning that out. But it still can be a distraction."

Is reality TV to blame for our awful phone etiquette?

Another influence on our current public behavior may be how phone use is often portrayed on television and in movies, in particular on reality shows. Having phone calls on speakerphone or otherwise sharing whatever is happening on the device out loud captures the exchanges for the audience.

What we're seeing may also impact our own behavior.

"Once we get an impression that other people are doing something or that they might find it acceptable, that shifts our view of what the norms are," Cohen says.

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Some may change how they interact and have a skewed perception of how others actually feel about the behavior if it might be seen as rude. There's a term from psychology for this: pluralistic ignorance.

"So even if the majority of people or most people think a behavior is inappropriate, we might have a sense of pluralistic ignorance where we think other people are more accepting of this behavior than they actually are."

How to combat phone rudeness

One thing that may not be loud enough is our voices. If something is bothering or distracting us, why are we reluctant to speak up? Why might a person avoid asking someone to turn the sound down or off, to ask someone if they may be able to use headphones, especially if it may help others realize the behavior is negatively affecting those around them?

"People have a reticence to engage in difficult conversations, to communicate honestly," Cohen says, "and we have misperceptions of how people will respond to honesty, to conflict, to feedback, to even to positive things like compliments."

People are more likely to go to social media or a friend group to communicate with those who are like-minded, she says, venting frustration without engaging in a conversation where you may have to express disagreement. But having difficult conversations may not go as badly as you think, and it also might be better for the community.

"We have these misimpressions or mispredictions about what honesty in our lives will be like," Cohen says, "Whether that's giving feedback or just having a difficult conversation. And it's not to say it always goes positively, but it's much less negative than we expect, and it tends to strengthen our relationships."

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Somewhere, there's a balance between the extremes of narrow focus where we ignore those around us and being too self-conscious and micro-managing our behavior.

"Our actions directly impact others, and that includes innocuous kinds of behaviors, like how loudly we're talking on the phone or watching videos to more consequential kind of interactions. Right now, because of the way the technology has been integrated into our lives and focusing our attention, I think maybe we're shifting too far into the self-focus and less mindful about how our actions affect other people."

Sounds like a good time to remember the golden rule.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: iPhone speakerphone calls are now the norm. Why?