Friday, September 30, 2011

Word to the wise: Know when to shut the cell up

My friend Kasia lives in Chicago and uses the public transit system to get to and from work. Sadly, a potentially quiet and relaxing ride can often turn into a technological nightmare the moment a passenger decides to talk on his cell phone.

She recounts a recent cell phone conversation, one way, of course: “I’m on the bus … the bus … THE BUS! I’ll be home in 15 minutes … 15 minutes … 15 MINUTES! We’re at Belmont now … Belmont … BELMONT!”

What is wrong with us that we think our private conversations are now for everyone and his brother to hear? Where is our sense of etiquette?

In the past, we’ve had experts on etiquette: Miss Manners, Emily Post, and pre-jail Martha Stewart, just to name a few.

But with the explosion of technology, I feel like modern society is in sore need of cell phone etiquette.

Ever the servant, I came up with a few basic rules to adhere to:

The Six-Foot Rule: Just because I happen to be in the same row of shoes with you at Ross, this does not mean that I want to be privy to the ins and outs of your recent divorce. Which is why I suggest the six-foot rule: If a very tall person cannot lie down between us while you prattle on about who gets the dishes and who gets the coffee maker, then you’re too close. (Unless, of course, you want to be that person lying down on the floor in Ross, in which case I think I can arrange that.)

The Too Much Information Rule: If your conversation has anything to do with (A) bodily functions, (B) medical test results, or (C) intimate relationships, refrain from talking in public on your cell phone. My friend Colleen was in a changing room at a store in Phoenix recently and overheard the woman in the next changing room on her cell phone recounting her latest gynecological evaluation. Colleen explained, “I heard about how she only has a few eggs left, how in vitro fertilization isn’t really an option, and how she’s just too young to be without a supply of ample viable eggs.” It’s amazing … you go in to try on a shirt for some retail therapy, and you get a whole lot of information that requires another kind of therapy altogether. Lovely.

The Rent the DVD and Stay Home Rule: If I just shelled over a $20 to see a movie with a friend, please don’t be surprised if I give you a dirty look when you pull out your phone and start talking to the babysitter DURING THE MOVIE. It’s a little unnerving to be following Brad Pitt’s dialogue in “Moneyball” with you behind me asking, “Did you try the other diaper ointment?” As a parent myself, not to mention a huge fan of babies, I totally get you. But I also want you to take a few steps out and talk to the sitter in the hallway. That’s all I’m saying.

The Get off your Phone and Drive Rule: If most human beings are unable to rub their stomachs and pat their heads simultaneously, chances are pretty good they can’t drive and talk on the phone very well either. Oh, and it’s ILLEGAL in some states to do so, so there’s that.

The Time-Out Rule: I understand … we often have our cell phones in our pockets when we enter a public restroom, but if it rings you do have the option to – you know – ignore it. Unless you’ve left your curling iron turned on and wrapped in a newspaper, and the incoming call reads FIRE STATION, I’m pretty sure any phone call can wait until you finish your business. (By the way, WHAT are you doing wrapping a hot curling iron in newspaper for? That’s just asking for trouble.)

The Polite Rule: My friend Joanne shared that people in China cover their mouths when they speak on their cell phones. “This makes it so much more pleasant for those around them,” she said. I say, “Brilliant idea, China!”

Now I’m sure I’ve forgotten some critical points of cell phone etiquette, but I’ll leave you with one over-arching thought: Just because modern technology makes it possible to talk wherever we want, whenever we want, does that mean we should abandon all propriety in what and when we “share?”

Say it isn’t so.

Eileen Burmeister lives and works in Southern Oregon. She can be reached at or you can follow her on Twitter @EBurmeister.

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