Why we hate bluetooth headset users

A couple of weeks ago, I was riding the subway in Chicago, when a man began a very civil phone conversation using a bluetooth headset. For whatever reason, this annoyed me… and the funny thing is that as I began to ponder why this annoyed me, I began to notice that several people around me seemed to be annoyed with this man too, or where at least paying a lot of attention to him.

Why is that?

I for one was an early adopter of bluetooth and had a headset that I used mostly when driving, or cycling. I liked it, sound quality was decent, fit well, battery life was good, it didn’t look to futuristic, all in all I have no reason to not like them. I haven’t used one in the last couple of years, but I have thought about buying one from time to time.

I think part of my contempt came from society’s stigmatizing of headset users as schmucks. I did a quick google on “Perceptions of bluetooth headset users” and I came up with this article that referenced the attempts by Jawbone to create viral Youtube videos that were supposed to help remove the “Douchebog factor” as the exec put it, from headset users. Here’s an example of one of them:

I know public cell phone use had a similar entry into society. It left people uncomfortable and cell phone users were also (and still are to a certain extent) classified as d-bags. But there’s something about using that little headset that makes over hearing someone else’s conversations more unnerving. Does holding a cell phone to one’s mouth create some sort of perceived private space, and once that is removed we feel uncomfortable or agitated to hear someone’s conversation? If we can’t see the headset, does that make us even more annoyed, and why? Or is this possibly my subconscious telling me it’s time for me to pony up the cash and buy a Jawbone… :wink:

Any thoughts on this? I’m really interested to hear how others perceive headset use… if at all?


Does holding a cell phone to one’s mouth create some sort of perceived private space, and once that is removed we feel uncomfortable or agitated to hear someone’s conversation? If we can’t see the headset, does that make us even more annoyed, and why?

I think you nailed the reason I dislike D-bags on their headsets…

A great example,
I’m walking down a city street- a man approaches from opposite direction walking toward eachother, eyes meet as any normal human eyes should, and four feet in front of me, he says “Hello” - I respond as if I don’t recognize him, because I don’t, and he looks at me, nearly upset or aggrivated, and points at his ear with a rude thrust, like I’m the a$$hole here. That instance, made me hate that guy, and most other users.

It’s happened to me several times, standing in line, someone directly behind me says “Hey” at normal speaking volume, I turn around, and they’re annoyed at my response of even looking at their face

I think the ‘arm up’ certainly creates the personal space,
it’s a natural human reaction for defense, bring your arms in, create your own space, a shell sort of
or if the arm is out at a 15-20 degree angle bent at the elbow, that adds a bit of distance to the horizontal area you’re taking up
it’s a clear and communicated way to tell the world “I’m on the phone”

the simple fact that people will “fake a phone call” to avoid an unpleasant situation or discussion by putting the unit up to their face or ear. this should be a major flag in this research. by using this physical motion, others will see it, understand it, and 9 times out of 10 leave the person alone. strange, but true.

where the headset users are walking around, talking, staring ahead, it makes think they’re insane, or maybe that I’ve lost my mind

A step in the right direction is by adding one of those bright lights on the exterior to show “I’m on the phone”… but that still doesn’t work too well in my opinion

There has got to be a better explanation why I too, dislike those things so much

You guys hit a lot of stuff right on the head. I purposefully make sure I put my finger over the receiver when I’m talking so that it’s obvious that I’m on the phone. Also I speak at a lower volume, the person on the other end has a volume control that they can turn up if they can’t hear me. I’ll also lower my head or turn away so that I’m not facing anyone.
But others will look directly at someone while talking on their phone with no indication that they’re on the phone. Add to that the fact that some sound like old ladies making long distance phone calls (yelling like they have to cover some long distance with their voice). That’s the most annoying. My wife does that, talks louder to the phone than she does to me. And also she’ll seamlessly switch from talking to the phone, then to me, then back to the phone with no switch indicators?
One more rant since I’m on a roll! These young kids with this “chirp” walkie-talkie feature which they have to have at maximum volume and it beaps with every switch in conversation. Hearing one side of a conversation is annoying because it doesn’t make sense, but hearing both sides when they’re still not talking about anything and it still doesn’t make sense drives me crazy! I tend to keep my headphones on when I’m on the train to drown it all out.

I think the main annoyance with the headset guys is that we’re trained that it’s impolite to ignore someone who’s talking to you. But it looks like they’re talking to you so you start paying attention and prepare yourself to respond only to be let down. That’s like seeing some hot girl smile and wink at you, walk up to you, and as you prepare yourself to speak she walks right past because it was the guy behind you she was winking at!

I had a few cultural moments this weekend with cel-phones. I went to the IDSA district conference in Philadelphia.

  1. I was walking around downtown and saw a slightly bummy looking guy with a beard mumbling. Now, I’m used to mentally ill walking around talking to themselves, sometimes even screaming. I do live in Montreal after all. After 20 seconds, he turns to the other side and I see his headset. Oh… What a first impression that made.

  2. My wife and I visited a submarine in the harbor. After our tour about 40 10-year old kids arrive on a field trip. The first surprise was all of them took photos of the thing right away (I don’t remember having a camera 'til I was 15). Second surprise is that all but two are taking the photos on cel-phones.

Now, I’m not that sheltered. Kids in Montreal have cel phones too. In fact, everyone does ('cept me). However, it seems people use them in Montreal more rarely than in Philly. Especially that walkie-talkie function. Boy, that is annoying!

Lastly, I do think people look like douche bags when they have to call people up to tell them nothing when they are standing in line at Wal-Mart.

My disdain for bluetooth users is a matter of degrees. The loud cell phone talker, to me is more annoying than the bluetooth user. Perhaps the annoyance goes without saying, but it is impossible to tune out the half conversation by these folks. Their self-importance takes up a larger footprint that intrudes on the personal space of those around us.

My annoyance with Bluetooth users is mixed with curiosity. I see more people with the devices stuck in there ear and not using them than actually carrying a conversation with one. Do you really need to have one in your ear, at the ready, while you are purchasing concrete mix with your construction buddies(who also have bluetooths) at Home Depot? Is your life and work SO busy that these things are essential? I think the popularity of these devices shows how enamored we can get with technology that we convince ourselves of their necessity in our lives.

UUGGGHHH! I hate that as much as bluetooth headsets. First, I don’t need to hear the latest Chris Brown song in the worst quality possible every time your phone rings. Secondly, I don’t need to hear why your girlfriend won’t get off your case about what ever it is you forgot to do for her.

I see someone talking with no phone, I think they’re crazy. After I see the headset, I just think they’re a douchebag.

Also, has anyone else noticed many people think they need to take the phone off their ear, turn it around, and shout into the bottom of it to be heard?

Whoa. I gotta go run around the block or something here…

How about this…

a pre-set warning input volume level built into the software of every phone/bluetooth headset…

so when ‘X’ dB of volume is reached through the microphone, anything above that ‘X’ dB level is switched over into the earphone,

anything below that ‘X’ dB level, and your phone will operate normally- rewarding you for being a sensible intelligent normal human being

currently, you can’t hear your own voice through your own speaker/receiver when you’re speaking

so when you start shouting into the phone, it would pierce your own ears, a bit of conditioning which could be implemented for no cost

I’m sure some people would actually take a month or three to figure out when they yell it will harm/annoy/aggravate them, and continue to do it until their ears start to hurt one day

I would be surprised if the headsets don’t have a little feedback built in. Landline phones have fed back a little sound from the microphone back into the speaker since the 1910’s or something.

Good to know I’m not the only one here who’s annoyed by people who use these things!

Like pdog said, the bluetooth in the ear 24hours a day is definitely my major annoyance with these things too. Each time I see someone holding a conversation in person, while their headset is still in… :angry: Are you really that lazy that you can’t put that thing in your pocket?

And don’t even get me started on the Boost Mobile “Chirp” call crap. I had to sit next to a guy on the bus who was so conditioned to use one of these “Chirp” phones that he seemed to be having a world of difficulty using a normal cell phone, because the thought of holding the phone to his ear AND his mouth simultaneously was asking too much!

Although to get back to my love hate relation with these things, today while I was walking in a steady Chicago drizzle for about 15 minutes it would have been a nice time to make a couple of calls, and if I had a headset it would have been protected under my hood.

I think that the future of cell phone use is definitely moving in the direction of a handset and headset combo, or eventually only a headset, but I think that as a lot of us seem to be noting, there’s a problem of letting other people know that you aren’t talking to them and are in fact talking to someone else. I’ve seen a plethora of concepts that make bluetooth headsets even more discrete, integrating them into clothing, jewelry, or completely in-ear solutions… now won’t that be strange to have people with no visible sign of cell use holding lively conversations on their own.

I guess that this will be something we’ll just have to get used too?

I would be surprised if the headsets don’t have a little feedback built in. Landline phones have fed back a little sound from the microphone back into the speaker since the 1910’s or something.

surely a bit of feedback, yes.

I suppose I forgot to type the most important part…

the feedback would be equal or greater than the actual ‘X’ dB input

so essentially the idiot is screaming into their own ears

no matter if you set the receiver volume to the lowest level, if you start screaming into the speaker, it’s over-ridden, and you’re screams pierce your own ear, perhaps even amplified a bit

sh*t… we could just put these people on bark/shock collars.

Just ran into FCC pics of the new Jawbone…

A little too busy for my tastes. I think this one crosses the line form elegant and simple to pompous and tacky. Anyone know if Behar had anything to do with this one?

hard to really see from the pics, but the thing is tiny! best designed bluetooth headset out there, IMHO. doesnt address not looking crazy talking on it, but at least you dont have a giant hunk of crappy plastic coming out of your ear with a star-trek-like flashing lights and faux chrome all over it.


Being that he’s the VP of Design for Jawbone or some such title, I am sure he had a lot to do with it.

Very interesting detailing there. Reminds me of the Mazda Furai/Maximalism/whatever we are going to end up calling this trend.

I think that is pretty much it. There is no visual key to figure out of the person is on the phone, talking to you, or psychotic. I only use a headset while driving or in the office because their is no need for it other wise, and it just looks weird (Te Jawbone is a good example though where it cuts through noise).

I have a similar problem with my iPhone. I walk the dog a few miles every morning and always listen to a playlist on my iPhone. A few times a week a friend of family member from the Eat Coast will call me that early and the phone call cuts in over the iPhone headset. It usually screws up some of the people around me because it looks like I’m just listening to an iPod with those white earbuds, they don’t see the mic.

Actually, the amount of microphone feedback varies between mfg and (would you believe), from model to model. I think in recent years, it is very minimal as any serious implementation of it does affect overall battery life. In know that in moving from an older Audiovox candy-bar to a newer Nokia slider, I do catch myself speaking unnecessarily loud sometimes.


Damn. Not to be nitpicky or anything, but that woman is possibly the least attractive ear model I’ve ever seen. No offense to her, just not sufficient to the task.

I’m not a big fan of the bluetooth headset either, though i drive a manual and it would really help in that situation, I’m much happier just not talking on the phone at all. Especially in the car.
The phone is there for my convenience, not theirs.

After he bought one, my boss wore his nonstop for a month or two last year. I started calling him Lobot.

dude its simple. if you have a headset in your ear, your too good for me. living in los angeles, everyones seems too good for you, why make it worse? i dont have a donger (p3nis) stickin outta my ear, why do you? this has gotta change,

Seems like a challenging topic for the 1hr design challenge!!!

BTW, when i talk with people around here, and they have one of those things sticking outta their ear - I askem " hey bud, you got somethin on your ear, u might wanna wipe it off" and they get all butthurt, lol…

Now that headsets are the law when driving in California, I’ve found mine to be unfit for the task.

The problem is when my phone rings, and I don’t have my headset handy, charged, powered-up, and fitted to my ear. Now what do I do?!! So what was once a choice convenience is now a hassle.

Since no headsets really seem to solve any of these problems, I think I’m going to resort to keeping a corded headset handy.

My car has the bluetooth built in to the nav system. Works great - no dorky headset, uses in car mics to actively cancel road noise and has all the controls voice activated from the steering wheel.

Only problem is if you want to have a private conversation, then it’s not so easy.