Cell phone etiquette, or lack thereof

Just spent a couple of hours reading at Barnes and Noble. I was lucky to find a chair, as the store was jammed.

Several times while I was reading, I was party to loud cell phone conversations. Personal ones. "Listen, this is what you always say, and I'm getting a little tired of it." That sort of thing. Tough to ignore. There were nice conversations, too. Once I heard over the din of the store a loud, "I love you, too!" You know that person was on a phone.

On the way to Barnes and Noble, I spotted at least a half a dozen drivers navigating the horrendous traffic with a cell phone glued to their ear. Research has shown that talking on a cell phone effects your driving about as much as several beers. So, it's hazardous out there.

A friend in the communications field reports, however, that the danger of talking on the phone while driving depends entirely upon what is being discussed, according to a recent study. If you are arguing, the chance of an accident goes way up. Idle chatter is pretty safe. I still think talking on the phone while driving should be banned, however.

The last few musical performances I have attended have all been preceded by an announcement requesting that all cell phones be turned off. The announcements worked. Apparently people are catching on that it is rude to allow your phone to ring in certain public settings, at least.

Last night, I ate supper at a little Mexican place. Two working guys were sitting across from me. One had his phone right on the table, and took four calls during their meal. His poor friend had a story to tell him but never got beyond the first sentence. The phone just kept ringing, and the his "friend" never once showed any inclination to cut the phone conversation short out of consideration for the fact that he was eating a meal and talking to somebody who was actually in the room.

Teenagers at the mall sit around the fountain in groups, as they always have, but now they stare into the screen of their cell phone as if winning lottery numbers are due to show up any moment.

I am starting to think that people who are ashamed to be alone in public--and there are a lot of them, it seems--use their cell phone as a sort of surrogate companion. They pull out their cell phone every couple of minutes or so, stare at the screen and act dramatic and important. Better than looking like you are utterly alone, for people who do things alone are wierd.

Cell phones have created another new form of rudeness, or what could be percieved as rudeness: it is understood now, it seems, that if the signal fades and the call gets cut off, you don't really need to try to call the person again later to close the call off in a polite fashion. It is understood that the signal was cut off, and nobody gets too upset.

People wonder why Dru Sjodin's boyfriend wasn't more worried when her call was cut off. (For one thing, she did not say "oh my God!" as was reported in the papers for over two weeks following her abduction.) Well, having calls cut off is so common that it is no longer a source for alarm.

Some weeks ago, I reported that a phone call with my Great Aunt Olla was cut off. I jumped in my pickup and drove 20 miles to see if she was all right. She was. But Olla has no cell phone. In the case of Dru, however, her boyfriend had no reason to suspect anything was remiss. If my experience is any indicator, they had probably gotten cut off like that several times that week.