A discourse on cellular etiquette

It’s time that we have a discussion about cellular phones and proper usage of said devices. There are many people using them and most of them have no idea how to use them politely.

I was recently at a small café that had a sum total of nine tables, in an intimate setting, eating breakfast. It was an enjoyable affair, except for the fact that somebody at one of the other tables was busy chatting away with a friend on a cell phone at the top of his lungs. The whole experience was a disaster. What could have been an enjoyable experience in a pleasant morning setting was wrecked.

There are other times that I see cell phone users acting in a reckless manner: while driving. It was a sobering experience a few years back when my car was hit by a drunk driver: while at the body shop, the elderly gentleman who been in the business for 30 or 40 years said when he started out in the business he used to walk around the shop and point at cars saying “drunk driver, drunk driver.” Today he walks around the same shop, pointing at cars and saying “cell phone, cell phone.” His casual observation in the body shop was backed up by a New England Journal of Medicine study in 1997 that found people using cell phones were four times more likely to be involved in an accident than people not using their phones.

As such I would like to make two proposals: First, that a group be formed to combat accidents caused by cellular phones. Modeled after MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, it could be called MACE: Mothers Against the Cellular Epidemic. Secondly, a conversation about cellular etiquette needs to be held, both in our community of learners and in our society at large.

I suggest the conversation within our academic community because as the number of cell phone users expands, I anticipate trying to listen to a lecture (whether a class or public lecture) while an audience member (student or otherwise) talks on their cell phone.

As such specific etiquette is needed, and there seem to be some easy suggestions:

  • Phones should be turned off unless you are expecting an important phone call. Finite math is not the time to be speaking with your pal Muffy about your date last night.
  • Should you expect an important call, audible phone rings should be turned off, vibrating rings are acceptable if your phone has that feature.
  • If you do have your cellular phone turned on, sit by the aisle and near the door to leave should the phone ring.
  • When the phone rings, you should leave the room before answering the call.
  • Apologize to the professor after class and explain the nature of the emergency. Most professors are more sympathetic when they have an explanation of why you left the room abruptly.

Finally, in society at large, we need to recognize that cellular phones are a vital part of the world but it is important to be polite when using the phone. Clearly driving while talking on the phone can have just as deadly results as driving while drunk, but there are other times and places that cell phone etiquette needs to be followed. Here is an outline of some basic premises I would suggest:

  • As noted before, do not drive and talk on the phone. There ought to be a law enforcing this objective, and there is: in Brooklyn, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, it is illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving.
  • Do not talk on your cell phones in restaurants, unless you have gone outside. Recently one New York City restaurant installed a cell phone lounge for people who are more interested in talking than eating.
  • Finally, do not shout into your cell phone. Shouting defeats the purpose of having a cell phone, since most people who shout into their cell phones shout loudly enough for the person they are calling to hear without use of the phone.

Cellular phones are here to stay, and the convenience and safety they offer is amazing, but along with technological progression comes the responsibility to use them carefully and politely.

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