Call-Hating: Blind Spots and Blinders

by Jeremy Willinger

By now it has happened to everyone. You could be at a museum, watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster, at a romantic dinner, or undergoing surgery and sure enough, a cell phone rings.

Somewhere between Alexander Graham Bell and the newest unlimited talk and text plan, society became enamored with the ability to make and receive phone calls in the public sphere. The result: a never-ending stream of conversations one is forced to listen to no matter where they happen to be.

Proper cell phone courtesy is not a foreign subject, and this blog is far from the first to cover it. However, despite ubiquity in the media, most still have not transcended their impulse to answer a phone, regardless of setting or present company. This can have deadly consequences. In the recent tragedy over New York City, for instance, in which a helicopter and a small plane collided, the air-traffic controller was too distracted by his phone conversation to warn of the impending accident.

On every phone, there is a vibrate feature which allows for tactile notification instead of sonically broadcasting the importance of the incoming call or text message. There is no reason a phone should not be turned to this setting in any enclosed public space. An even better choice, for more quiet locations like a movie theater, library, friend’s house or a place of worship, is the silent feature, which mutes all sounds. Silencing your cell says to your host, and to those around you, that the present situation is stimulating enough to capture and hold your attention. Furthermore, you’re considering the feelings of those around you: no one pays $140.00 for a front-row seat at a Broadway musical to listen to your blaring ringtone.

But just because you have your phone muted does not mean all rules have been met. Leaving your phone on a table during dinner is a breach of cell phone etiquette and serves as a distraction for other people at the table. If you must take a call, politely excuse yourself from the table or venue and conduct a quick conversation in another room where you will be out of earshot. At work, a phone should always be set to vibrate or silent and one should always curtail personal conversations and text messaging during work hours.There is no better way to make a poor impression on colleagues than to have your phone go off in a meeting, or let them see you whiling away office hours playing BrickBreaker on your BlackBerry.

Regardless of your surroundings, it is of critical importance to be mindful of volume. This pertains not only to your own voice, but to the setting of your ringer, whether you are using a speakerphone/walkie-talkie (and for the sake of decency, you should not be doing so in public) or you are playing a game or music. Yet, even if your phone is on silent and you are keeping your voice low, you must also be mindful of the subject matter you are discussing in public. Would you tell a complete stranger about your romances, bodily functions, family strife, or financial transactions? If not, then don’t have conversations about taboo subjects in public.

The solution, it seems, is not turning to illegal cell phone jammers designed to create a mute zone by cutting off wireless signals around the device. The answer to cell phone abuse is public education, and the enforcement of cell phone laws such as California’s cell phone harassment law, and laws designed to curb usage when it threatens public safety, such as driving while texting.

With 87 percent of Americans owning a cell phone, we must police ourselves and be vigilant, no matter how careful we assume ourselves to be. Let us see each call as an opportunity to consider the needs of more than just the person on the line. Only after considering our surroundings should we guiltlessly enjoy all that our phones provide us.