Basic Rules of Cellphone Etiquette
are the days when people whipped out a cell phone to demonstrate how "with
it" they were. Now nearly everyone who wants a cellphone -- teenager to drug
dealer -- are running about wireless. Hot it may be, but hip it isn't. And thankfully
fading in impact are the "Guess where I am?" calls.
there are those who think they are impressing everyone by rearing back to send
their bell-like laughter into the unwired ether. And many cellphone calls are
the inane (to anyone nearby) "natter" calls full of "...and then
I go...and he goes."
wonder cellphone backlash, even cellphone rage is with us. One report: Two men
in a cafe were beaten and their phones destroyed by two others after the pair
ignored repeated requests to curb their loud and continuous yakking on their phones.
to digress into the future: Let us talk now of Instant Communication. Cellphones
are perhaps closer to "instant" than anything else we have known, but
they are like drum beats to the telegraph. How about tiny chips implanted behind
the ear to power thought messages and direct them to the correct recipient? No
palm this or e-that. We speak here of direct and instant. Certainly nothing as
crude as a handheld gadget that plays a few bars of Beethoven to let you know
someone wants a word. Instant.
cell rule for places of worship: Leave the phone at home, in the car or at least
turn it off before you enter. God may call you, but it's unlikely He will use
will be no audible interruption. No patting pockets or rummaging about in bags
trying to track down the illusive trilling. No disrupting the foursome at the
next table (who frown in unanimity). No bringing up short the preacher in mid
parable; the speaker in mid point; the soprano in mid aria.
even with Instant Communication there will be that telltale defocusing of the
eyes, that sentence left hanging, that thought sent fleeing. And there's the rub.
Those quick little absences of yours tell Present Company that something more
important than they are has blipped your radar screen. And that, dear cellphone
user, is what's most annoying to Present Company - being tuned out, turned off,
dropped out for an unknown on a phone.
what is inescapably rude - the disruption of a call, whether by the Instant Communication
of the future or the cellphone of today. A call imposes, infringes, presumes,
intrudes. That's not nice. Phones have always been intrusive from the time
they were on the wall with a crank for summoning "Central." Even today
few people within earshot of a ringing phone can ignore it though it may mean
dinner or ardor growing cold. In business, the face-to-face customer always seems
to be secondary to the prospective one on the phone. Just visit any department
store and see.
travelers, if we hear our flight is suddenly canceled we are far better served
if we immediately get on the phone and not on a long line to await our turn.
it or hate it (or both) the phone is supreme. We inherently resent the command
of the ring just as we unconsciously respond to it. I think that's why people
in restaurants, airport shuttle buses, supermarket check-out lines - all those
places where cellphones ring, buzz, tootle, beep or orchestrate - are so annoyed
by the beck of a phone. It's because their first impulse is "I'll get it!"
But it isn't for them.
it is not just the cellular phone, but the telephone itself that is the source
of the problem. It demands; we comply. That's rankling to us at a basic level.
Untethering the phone and allowing it to roam wireless, like the neighborhood's
most bothersome dog that has chewed through its leash, has simply given new range
to the phone's propensity for mischief.
in mind, the more available you make yourself the more available everyone will
expect you to be. People will actually be miffed if you are not instantly and
constantly available rather than being pleased when you do call.
We are all
in our own way slaves to it, and to be mustered - mistakenly and in unfamiliar
places - is off-putting. We resent it. And thus we resent the person who says:
"Hello?" into the instrument.
back to cellphones; resentment of their summoning sound is just a small part of
what makes them, as some would have it, a "scourge." Actually, that
part can be dealt with easily since silencing them scarcely limits their usefulness.
Instead of an audible sound a vibration or a small flashing light on the end of
a special pen greatly narrows the circle of those who know a phone is asking to
be answered. So the noise of the phone can be handled.
how about the noise of the user?
an interesting matter - why do cellphone users shout into it as if it were a tin
can connected to another by a string? I have a friend whose normal tone of voice
is perfectly, well, normal. But let him flip open his cellphone and you'd think
he's trying to yell at deaf Uncle Lloyd in the lower forty over the pocketa-pocketa
of a Fordson tractor.
said one day at lunch when his bellowed "hello" had turned a few heads,
"You know, there's a microphone in that little thing. It can hear you."
I later set an exercise for him - if he felt required to change the level of his
voice in the transition from face-to-face to phone, try lowering it. He did. It
worked famously. Now no one can tell if his talk is phone time or face time. Try
if you can't be heard, don't raise your voice; raise your body and exit to the
back hall where the pay phones are. Or go outside among the other jackhammers
and shout all you like. Realize that shouting in a restaurant (an office hallway,
a bus, a bookstore) is rude and uncalled for, whether you have a phone in front
of your face or not. If you are not aware that you are shouting (and some are
not) then take your cue from the response of those around you. If anyone looks,
lower your voice.
have a theory why people shout into cellphones, beyond the fact that the early
instruments maybe needed such help. I think the shouting has to do with barely
hearing the person on the other end. And just as we raise the decibels to make
certain a non-English-speaking person can understand what we are saying, we tend
to shout when we can't hear. Make sense? Of course not. We are human.
are some basic rules of etiquette for using your cellphone. (Car phone use is
think of your phone as a tool for emergencies (i.e. the baby sitter to say that
your child has made a hole in one of a neighbor kid's head with your nine iron;
the hospital to say your father's long-awaited kidney is on the helicopter; your
staff to alert you the jury is returning; your neighbor to say Ed McMahon is hovering
about your door with a massive rectangle of cardboard.
think of your phone as a portable answering machine. It takes messages and when
you are in an appropriate place, say your car BEFORE you unpark it; a park bench
far from anyone else; a phone booth (!) no one else wants (phone booths are fairly
if there are special restrictions on phone use.
only essential calls.
conversations brief to terse. Use an at-table call primarily to make an appointment
for a more appropriate time for a call-back.
you simply must be available you can put your phone on "vibrate" - say
for your anticipated dinner companion to tell you that he is caught in traffic
like a grape in aspic so have another drink. (If your phone does not have a vibrate
capability maybe it's time for a new one.)
speaking in a quiet conversational tone. If no one looks your way I think you've
concerts, meetings etc:
at the entrance to be sure your phone is "off." If you're compulsive,
check for voice mail at breaks. (Remember, you used to have to go home to check
the only time you could get tickets to take the kids to "The Lion King"
coincides with the only time a major mucky-muck is available for a conference
call, put your phone on "vibrate" close to your heart and dash for the
exit at the first tremor.
you forget both "off" and "vibrate" and your phone rings,
turn it off instantly. (And as unobtrusively as possible so nobody will suspect
you are the jerk responsible). No matter what: DO NOT ANSWER IT!
and art galleries:
else's house or office:
Follow airline personnel
instructions. Usually cellphones must be off as soon as the aircraft doors are
closed until the doors open again on arrival. (Unless
otherwise informed on long apron delays etc.)
diligent if you have
a cellphone with you but haven't used it lately. It could
be on; there is adequate evidence the electronics within can interfere
with those that guide
Do not talk on the
phone while someone is trying to take your order in a restaurant,
locate an upgrade for you on an airplane or return the shoes you
Attend to the face-to-face business totally even if you have to
ask the one on the line to hold. Continuing to use the phone while
signaling to the person in front of you is belittling and so extremely
rude I've only seen the obnoxiously self-important do it.
Now here's a thought:
Do you really want to be available all the time? Does that
truly make you more productive, or does it just spread the productivity
thinner over more
once read studies of supermarkets vying to stay open longer than their
Then surveys demonstrated that beyond a point they were not necessarily
increasing business, but rather spreading it out. And expensively
in mind, the more available you make yourself the more available everyone
will expect you to be. People will actually be miffed if you are
and constantly available rather than being pleased when you do call.
Think: Do you really
need to be - or want to be - "connected" 24/7/365? And ask:
what's it doing for that tension across your upper back?
If you can summon
the discipline to be unavailable at certain times - and even
for uncertain lengths of time - it's doubtful much will change, except
your peace of
mind. I remember from childhood a friend's mother at an eat-over-supper
halting her daughter's urge to jump up and answer the phone. She
told her: "If it isn't important you've wasted the effort; if it is
that was before answering services or recording devices picked up after
a few rings. That
phone call was like the tree in an unpeopled forest: it fell
and was forgotten, unnoticed forever. The
world still turned.