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Five Rules of Bluetooth Headset Usage January 26, 2007

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Bluetooth, Fashion, Geeks, Humor, PPC-6700, Science & Technology, Stupidity, Technology.

“Picard to Enterprise… prepare to beam two aboard!”


Bluetooth headsets. They are extremely cool technology, and most of the time*, they work well, even for non-technical users.** It’s a bit “Star Trek-y.” Unfortunately, they are approaching iPods as the latest form of “technology masquerading as a fashion accessory.”

Blue Light Special
The flashing blue light. It used to be a sign that you were nearing a “special deal” at the local K-Mart. Now, it’s most likely a sign that you’re near someone who’s proudly displaying their geekishness by keeping their Bluetooth headset hooked on their ear.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I really like the fact that using a Bluetooth headset means I don’t have a wire attached to my ear for hands-free operation. It’s very convenient, and allows me to even connect the phone to the charging base while I’m talking. Bluetooth is a very cool thing from a usability standpoint.

Bluetooth is also nice from the standpoint of security and technology. Several former co-workers have gone to work for a company that does Bluetooth protocol stacks (the layer of software that handles communication for a Bluetooth device), and I’m starting to appreciate the technology from both a usable technology perspective (they’ve made partnering quite painless) and with regard to security (depending on your needs, you can configure a device to require a passphrase to establish a partnership).

Geek Chic or Geek Freak?
Lately, I’ve started to see more and more Bluetooth headsets “out in the wild.” The thing is, these headsets are so good at being “hands free” devices, it’s hard to tell if someone’s using one or not. In some cases, that’s probably the point, as I can be cruising around in my car, needing only to tap my ear to answer or hang up a call, adjust the volume, or redial the last call. (Supposedly, I can use it to voice dial as well, but I’ve not yet mastered that part of the user interface experience. I know. There goes what little “geek cred” that I may have established.)

On the other hand, I’ve been standing behind someone in line at Starbucks who’s chatting away, appearing for all the world to be talking to himself. I sat next to a buddy in an evening service at church and noted “Phil, the side of your head is blinking.” At work, I’ve sat next to a co-worker, unsure if he was talking to me, to himself, or to someone on his phone. At least when someone has a phone planted to the side of their head, I have a bit of a social cue as to whether or not they’re on the phone! Here, I have no clue.

The Official Bluetooth Headset Rules
To deal with this social problem, here are my official Rules of Bluetooth Headsets:

  1. Before you hook the headset to your ear, ask “Do I really need hands-free operation right now?” (If the answer is “No,” turn it off and put the headset in your pocket.)
  2. If you do need hands-free operation, be aware that if you’re a social context where other people might think you’re talking to them, the absence of a “I’m on the phone” sign on your forehead may cause them to speak to you and expect an answer. Turn your back, face a wall, or otherwise appear to be a lunatic. That will give them a hint to leave you alone, even though you’ve put yourself in a public place, possibly inviting something really weird like… you know… conversation.
  3. Recognize that even if you’re too rude to acknowledge social interaction while you’re on the phone, the possibility of someone talking to you might interfere with your current conversation with President Bush, or whoever it is that absolutely has to talk right now. Noise reduction technology has come a long way, but using a Bluetooth headset in a Starbucks, with the barista foaming milk and (if they don’t have the new automatic espresso machines) emptying the filter handle, is likely to make it hard for the other party to hear what you’re saying anyway.
  4. To elaborate on the previous rule, don’t try to carry on a conversation with someone standing next to you and with someone on your phone. It’s annoying to both of them, and especially to all of us around you, who have to listen to you arbitrating between the conversations.
  5. Recognize that you look like a dork when you wear the headset in public, no matter how cool or chic you think it may be. Yes, lots of people do this. Yes, they all look like dorks. If you have hands, use them to hold the phone.***

Yes, I love technology. Yes, I’ve been known to use technology is silly and unnecessary ways. (I have been guilty of sending instant messages to my sons to tell them dinner is ready, and a few times, have chatted with them electronically when we were sitting in the same room.) However, I draw the line at using technology devices as a statement of fashion.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hop in the S2000, pop my H700 Bluetooth headset in my ear, pull my PPC-6700 out of the leather case on my belt to check for text messages, fire up my favorite playlist on my iPod, and head to the mall. I need to see if they’ve got those Nike+ shoes that go with the Nike + iPod Sport Kit. Running season’s almost here, and my current setup just isn’t cool anymore. 😉

Post to Digg

* My experience with the Motorola H700 (pictured above) partnering with my PPC-6700 is that it may disassociate itself from the phone, and then become almost impossible to reconnect. Turning the headset off and back on is generally no help in that situation, and one time, I had to completely delete the partnership (Bluetooth terminology), and “rediscover” the device. The method that currently seems to get things working again is to turn off Bluetooth networking at the phone, turn off the headset, re-enable Bluetooth, and then turn the headset back on. More than once I have considered chucking both of them out of the window as I drove down the road, frantically screaming for the person who’s saying “hello? hello?” down at the phone to hold on until I can pull off and answer without the headset.

** Sometimes, the technology works well, but the operator is a dork. Recently, I put the H700 in my pocket (without closing the boom to turn it off) to go to the bathroom. I came back to my desk, sat down, and began typing. A minute later, I heard this faint voice, sounding like something between a chipmunk and a mouse, squeaking from under my desk. “Hello? Tim? Are you there?” After several minutes of trying to find the talking chipmunk, I realized that the sound was coming from my pocket. When I sat down, the pressure of my keys against the Call button on the headset had redialed the last number called. My baffled friend was sitting there, listening to the sounds of car keys scratching against the headset. I realized about that time that I was an idiot.

*** PPC-6700 users can be excused for breaking this rule in noisy environments because the volume of the built-in earpiece is so low that using the Bluetooth headset makes it much easier to hear. You still look like a dork though, so violate this rule only then the call is crucial enough that you’re willing to tolerate the ridicule of total strangers.


1. Rose - January 30, 2007

One of the other beauties of Bluetooth? I can stick one in my ear and talk to myself and nobody thinks I’m a lunatic. 😉

2. Tim - January 30, 2007

Rose, in my case, they think I’m a lunatic regardless. 😉

3. unintendedpurpose - February 13, 2007

nice articles and fresh thought out there, many thanks for new inspiration. I just encountered the joy of a good headset while watching some good movies. that is practically if you can also walk around and work on with handsfree

greetz MIC

4. Bonnie (One of Tim's Sisters) - February 22, 2007

I’ll pass on making a comment on the Lunatic remark.

As to the primary subject, a few years ago I was a consultant to a wireless company their employees began getting decent cordless headsets ahead of the rest of the world. I finally realized that it was the exception rather than the rule to see someone walking down the hall who did NOT appear to be a lunatic. (See definition above.)

5. The Scala-700™ VoIP Headset Review: changing perceptions at Gear Diary - March 14, 2007

[…] I’m not here to talk about the Five Rules of Bluetooth Headset Usage but rather review the Scala-700™ VoIP Bluetooth® Headset which will change the way you’ll […]

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