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I went to New York City last weekend, and noticed all the people on cell phones while waiting for their planes in the airport. OK, there’s not much to do in these waiting lounges so why not call people up? But it got worse when we were loading onto the plane and someone stood right in the middle of everyone else and spoke loudly into their cell phone. Everyone around looked annoyed but it make no impact on the person in conversation. When it happened again while loading onto another flight this weekend, I decided it was now a trend.

Annoying cell phone usage is becoming a scourge of our society, and it’s not just for arrogant executives anymore. It seems like wherever you turn in public spaces, there’s someone yelling into their phone, having the most mundane conversation about nothing, but making sure everyone within shouting distance can hear. I decided enough is enough, and asked you all to help me make the definitive guide to the times you should NOT be on the cell phone.

Before we get to the guide and all your helpful suggestions, let’s take a step back and think about the dire consequences of using your cell phone at inappropriate times. Photographer Francis Patrick used his Flickr account to tell the story — in pictures and words — of how his son was injured in a car accident. According to Patrick:

My wife was sitting at a red light when a jerk talking on his hands-free cell phone going at 50 MPH rear-ended my wife because he was not paying attention to the road. Life is so much more important than a cell phone call!!!!!! My son suffered a severe brain injury in this accident and I have gone round and round with myself whether to post these pics. As a public announcement I have decided to, but it is heart wrenching for my wife and I to look at these and see the blood in the car and relive this moment. My oldest was the one in the accident (Patrick) and as you can see in the pics I have posted, he is doing fine now after a long 5 year road of doctors and therapy, and tutors. Please, when you’re driving, pull over to have that conversation, save a life, because it could be yours that you’re saving.

According to a report by the Insurance Information Institute, cell phone usage does lead to inattention on the roads, which leads to car accidents — though other distractions can be more dangerous than cell phone use. One study of drivers in Perth, Australia, found that drivers who use cell phones while driving — even with hands-free sets — are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.

So now let’s get to that list of no-no’s for talking on cell phones. Under each rule, I’m going to highlight some of your great commentary as well.

Rules for Cell Phone Usage

Don’t use your cell phone in a restaurant. This rule goes for people eating alone or with other people, and it extends to text messaging while eating with others. If you have to use the phone, put it on “vibrate” mode and go outside if you need to talk.

From Jill:
“When you are out to dinner with friends — don’t use your cell to text. The only message you will send is that your present company isn’t worth your full attention. I suggest enjoying the moment.”

From Fred:
“Some restaurants will not enforce their rules about cell phones for fear of offending that ‘regular’ guest. Like smokers, move them out on the street. As for friends, I have, and will continue to do so, walk away from them when that device comes out.”

Don’t talk on your cell phone in a movie theater or at a live theater performance. Put the phone on “vibrate” mode and talk outside, if necessary. Don’t use your cameraphone to take photos at a live theater performance.

From Jamie Lamoreaux:
“I work at a playhouse and am always amazed at the inconsiderate jerks who use their cell phone cameras to take pictures. They are told NOT to photograph, tape or film the performance, but the minute lights go out, the ushers see blue lights go on. Don’t these idiots realize that we see them? And that from any row those phone camera pictures are just blurry spots of light? We LOVE to make people delete their pictures and escort them out of the theater.”

Don’t talk on your cell phone when you are in the company of friends or family, and have set aside time to spend with them. You are supposed to be with the people you are with physically, not with the people who are calling you on your phone. Nothing is more of an insult to people you’re with than taking a phone call and chatting away, wasting the precious time you are together.

From Mark Dilley:
“I feel that all social situations require care and that one should step outside of that situation to have a cell phone conversation. If it is possible, ignore the call and focus on the people that you are phsically close to.”

From Judy:
“I don’t understand the need/desire to so easily and freely disconnect from one’s surroundings! Just what is so fascinating at the other end of that cell phone?”

From Sue:
“I never take my phone with me if having dinner with friends, [or going to] concerts, movie theaters. I don’t think cell phones should be allowed in classrooms either. The least that should be done is putting your ringtone on vibrate or silent.”

Here’s an aggregated list of other places you all mentioned that should be forbidden for cell phone usage:

> While driving in the car or riding in a car with other people.

> While in a line at a store.

> While walking in the street. (“I have seen people almost get hit by cars because they are not looking!” wrote Sue.)

> While at someone’s private party around other people.

> While in a classroom.

> While at the gym working out.

> While in a waiting room at the doctor’s office.

From Bonnie:
“I very politely asked someone to cease and desist in a small waiting room of a doctor’s office which had a large sign saying, ‘Do not use your cellphone.’ The person told me that she had been working 15 hours that day and the call would just take a minute. Neither reason was at all relevant, yet a man chimed in with ‘Sometime it IS the only time available.’ (Busy = MUST make a call = IMPORTANT….Huh?).”

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And in the worst-of-the-worst category, don’t use a cell phone:

> While in the library.

> While in a bathroom.

> While at a funeral.

> While at a church or other religious service.

Your Rants

There’s something about annoying cell phone usage that brings out a lot of rants from people. Here are a few good ones from MediaShift readers.

From David Hyte:
“Are you SO important that you MUST use the cellphone in the restroom??!? I see/HEAR this all the time. How egotistical and crass do you really have to be to think that you are that important AND the person on the other end wouldn’t care that you’re talking to them while you’re using the loo!!! THAT’S WHY YOU HAVE VOICEMAIL WITH THE PHONE!!! Learn to use it.”

From Sonchen:
“When sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for a flight, etc. please move away from the crowd to do your talking. We are not interested in how important you are or how loud you can talk! I have also overheard conversations that should have been confidential information but the speaker is broadcasting it all over the place.”

From Bonnie:
“Some individuals have long, obnoxious (and usually loud) ringer tunes that they let play three or four times before answering (‘OK, everybody, I’m sure you’ve noticed me now,’ they seem to broadcast). Such people are obviously incapable of answering their phones after just one ring.”

From Kay Butler:
“The most irritating cell phone user is my sister, Marsha. She’s not a busy executive, an emergency worker, or anyone who needs to be contacted urgently. We’re in our 60s! I have told her many times I will no longer go to the movies with her because she accepts and MAKES calls during the show. A couple of times she just laughed while the caller spoke. She promised me it wouldn’t happen again and things went well the last time. This Monday, however, we went to see “The Queen,” and her phone did not ring…but by some miracle she took it out of her pocket, flipped it open and there was a text message on the LARGE BLUE SCREEN. She has had more than ten chances; it’s over. I guess she’s just better and more important than I and the other moviegoers.”

Alternate Views & Solutions

Of course, not everyone is opposed to cell phone usage in the situations outlined above. And obviously there are lots of people who like talking in public places or we wouldn’t see so many people doing it! Here are some arguments for taking calls in public places.

From Phonetics:
“Actually, I don’t mind if my friends suddenly pull out their cells when we’re hanging out together. As long as it’s for talking, I don’t mind. But when they start to text and try to listen to you as well, then that’s when I wanna scream. Cause it almost always ends up with them only pretending to listen in the end. (I am almost always busy picking up calls, so I can’t really get pissed off by other people doing the same thing.)”

From Howard Owens:
“See, I’m a busy executive — you never know when that text message might be important, urgent business…and neither does the other guy. Generally, I try to be sensitive to the situation. If I’m in a purely social conversation, and my boss texts me, I’m responding to his text, regardless of the subject. If I’m in a business meeting, I might ignore the buzz on my belt altogether.

“Group meetings are different from one-on-one conversations. Social gatherings are different than heart-to-hearts. Context is always important, and I think I’m the only one who gets to decide how to manage my communications.”

From Toto:
“I often eat alone in a restaurant, put my cell phone on vibrate, and will take a call. However, I usually bend my head so that I am talking down to the table and speak softly. My conversation on the cell phone is quieter than most people in the restaurant talking to their table companions. The reason most people yell is that cell phones do not have the built-in function that landline phones have wherein you can actually hear yourself speaking better whilst on a landline.”

Some folks wrote in with some solutions to the problem of annoying cell phone usage in public. Rosie Win said there should be designated areas for talking on cell phones, either booths or special areas where people would make only the most important calls. Stephen Salemi noted that there already is a product called the Cell Zone, which is basically a phone booth without the phone so people can make their call in a quiet place and not disturb others. Great idea!

Paul Bovino says that cell phones should only be used in emergencies. “Get yourself organized,” he writes. “That’s right, organized. Get all the information you need from your boss before you hit the road. Get the shopping list from your wife, before you leave the house.”

Of course it will be difficult to get people to follow any rules, whether it’s a law against driving while on the phone or a sign that says “Don’t use your cell phone here.” But perhaps with enough cajoling and social pressure, people will change their behavior. Otherwise, we’ll all be forced to suffer in cell phone hell. As Sue put it, “One of the worst things about cell phones is how much real time they are taking away from real living.”

Did we leave anything out of our rules? Do you have any other stories to share about people using cell phones when they shouldn’t? Put them in the comments below.

UPDATE: I’m not sure how I forgot another important rule: Don’t leave your tiny bluetooth headset in your ear while you walk around or eat lunch. Marla Erwin summed this up well with a nice rant in comments:

Self-importance is taken to new heights by cell phone users who dare not waste three or four seconds pulling their cell phones out of a pocket, or, more likely, a belt holster. Instead, they sport shiny bluetooth earpieces, apparently permanently (have you ever seen anybody take one off?). I get unreasonable around these people and want to tear the Borg implants off their heads and stomp them to bits. But most of all, I want to inform the wearers that unless they have the stand-down codes for an impending nuclear launch, they are simply not that important, or in that much of a hurry.

Also, Michael Sauers, who snapped the library photo above, believes that cell phones should not be banned entirely from all libraries. “I agree with banning bad behavior, which may or may not involve a cell phone, but not with banning the technology because people are rude,” he wrote on his blog. “Sure, ban them in theaters since talking has been banned. But unless you’re banning talking from your library, there’s no logical reason to ban cell phones.”

Let me try a logical reason for you, Michael. Libraries that I frequent are meant to be quiet, except perhaps in the kids’ area. If you talk, you talk in a mellow, quiet tone. People who talk on cell phones very rarely talk in mellow tones. It is incongruous for people to pull out phones or insert bluetooth headsets to talk to someone somewhere else loudly. I bet if you surveyed librarians, 9 out of 10 would agree with a cell phone ban. What is so difficult about going outside the library to talk if you get a call?

UPDATE 2: I went back to the airport today and was put to the test while waiting for my plane to board. I had a three-hour wait for the plane to take off, so I decided to make some calls. I tried to get as far away from other folks as I could before I started talking. So far, so good. But then, when we started boarding, I got a call from my friend Jeff and we started chatting. Sure enough, I was getting in line for the plane while talking to him. He couldn’t help but joke with me, “I was just reading somewhere that it’s very rude to talk on your cell while getting on a plane at the gate.” Point taken!

There’s something very engrossing about being on a telephone conversation with a friend that seems to trump the world around you. I’m not sure why that is, and I knew deep down it was wrong to do, but there’s a certain unstoppable feeling about it, just like talking on a cell phone while driving. But hey, I’m trying….

[Photo of “no cell phone” sign by Claudecf; photo of library sign by Michael Sauers.]