I've been thinking about John Cheever's story "The Enormous Radio" lately because of experiences that remind me of it. The story is a nice little parable about a couple living in an apartment building who one day discover that their new radio can pick up the sounds of their neighbors all over the building. They gradually get more and more hooked on listening to their neighbors' lives, even as this knowledge starts to undermine their faith in human nature and in each other. Cheever couldn't have dreamed how much of this would come to pass in living color what with reality tv and celebrity culture flooding the airwaves.
I once had an office across the hall from someone who kept his phone and answering machine on speakerphone, which meant that unless I leapt up and shut my door every time I heard his phone ring, I had to listen to every detail of his conversations, from what he was picking up for dinner to symptoms described to his doctor.
The part that's currently intriguing, though, is some kind of technological glitch that makes other people's car radios intrude when I'm driving. I'm not talking about the turn-it-up-to-11 booming bass patterns that some drivers like to share with the rest of us, so that we can better experience the feeling of having our ribs shake with the sound. I listen to the iPod in the car through one of those adapters that plugs into the car's electrical system, which somehow transmits the sound to the radio. But when certain cars or trucks pass, they override the signal from the iPod temporarily. I don't know how this works (Bluetooth? two-way radio?), but the end result is getting several seconds of sound from the other car. The result is that I get to hear--and speculate about who's playing--everything from Christian rock to oldies to hip hop and to try to figure out which of the cars in the line of traffic is transmitting it.
So--a glimpse into others' lives, but not one that I seek or can control. It keeps things interesting.