19
Aug
2005

Loud and mobile: a bad combination

By Juan-Carlos Rodriguez

Washington August 19, 2005 Page Tools

The complaints are familiar and frequent: People on mobile phones talk too loud, they use them at inappropriate times, and they just don't seem to care if they are bothering anyone.

The horror stories are famous too. Mobile phones at funerals. Mobile phones at weddings. Mobile phones in class. And of course, mobile phones in restaurants.

US President George Bush has a well-known low mobile phone tolerance. He gives a withering evil eye to those whose mobile phones ring during his public appearances.

According to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, nearly two-thirds of Americans use a mobile phone, which means getting out of reception range is about the only way to avoid those irritating habits.

Etiquette expert Judith Martin, also known as Miss Manners in her newspaper column, has a simple explanation for Americans' fascination with these flashing, buzzing and chiming gadgets.

"It's like children getting new toys," she said. "But the excitement is over. People should be over it." Advertisement Advertisement

Another etiquette expert, Marjabelle Young Stewart, said mobile phones appeal to our inner rock star. "I think that it's making a lot of people feel cool if they drive around with this microphone," she said.

Traditionally quiet places such as film theatres, opera houses, orchestra halls and live theatre venues are now compelled to remind patrons to turn off their mobile phones or other devices before a performance.

Washington's Metrorail system has put up signs discouraging inconsiderate talkers. "Yes, we're all very interested in what you're having for dinner tonight," reads one sign, accompanied by a picture of a wide-mouthed Metro rider yelling into a mobile phone. The second line says, "Please keep your phone conversations to yourself."

This is all too much for Miss Manners. "I look forward to going to any public event and not getting an etiquette lecture," Martin said.

Some churches in Mexico have gone beyond lectures and taken the James Bond-as-disciplinarian route to combat sacrilegious mobile phone use. The churches have installed short-range mobile phone signal jammers to thwart members of their flock who lack mobile phone self-control during mass.

The jammers have caught on in Japan, India and France, but their use is illegal in the United States.

While some are clamouring for mobile phone restraint, mobile phone companies are lobbying the Federal Aviation Administration to permit the phones on commercial airline flights. But in a poll by the Association of Flight Attendants and the National Consumers League, 63 per cent of respondents wanted to keep existing restrictions in place.

Martin compared the evolution of the mobile phone to that of the answering machine. She said when people first got the answering machines, "they were misusing them, doing their comedy routines and otherwise boring their friends." After a few years, the novelty wore off and an answering machine protocol set in, she said.

But new tricks and features for mobile phones just keep on coming, so the novelty never seems to wear off. Cameras, games, ring tones, email capabilities - mobiles can have all of these things and more.

For every cultural niche, there is a mobile phone feature. Perhaps most likely to raise eyebrows on the bus or in the movie theatre is the "moan tone." Instead of a catchy ditty or an electronic symphony, mobile phone rings can now be programmed with a recording of a porn actor making sexual noises.

Both Martin and Stewart said people needed to pay attention to commonsense etiquette rules to govern their behaviour with mobile phones and other electronic devices.

Stewart had some advice for anyone who feels a technophile has forgotten their manners. She recommended tapping the offender on the shoulder and asking them to please lower their voice or take their gadget outside.

"You can't always be polite," she said.

AP


Amanda Wesley
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