Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Cell phones in public places 

Surprising as it may be to my too distinguished readership, I am going to take an unpopular position in this post, to wit: People who get in a twist about other people talking on their cell phones in public places should chill out and examine their own motives. A lot of them aren't troubled by noise, or their own noise. They're just "disturbed" by this particular kind of noise, and their irritation derives from their own selfishness or nosiness.

This morning, for example, I was -- and still am -- sitting virtually alone in the Starbucks at the Princeton MarketFair shopping center, happily plinking away at emails and suffering the hideous faux Arabian music that the store management has seen fit to pump over the sound system. My phone "rang" -- it vibrated, actually, 'cause I usually keep it on silent mode, just for the thrill of it -- and I paused to chat with a colleague who called while on his way to the airport. I spoke in conversational tones, no more, no less.

Suddenly and without warning, a rather large woman materialized at the table next to my easy chair, selecting it from among several other open tables that were not next to me.

Like a bat out of hell, she shushed me and asked me to stop talking on my cell phone!

Since I like to limit my enemy-making to the blogosphere, I smiled an accomodating smile and wrapped up my conversation.

Shortly thereafter, the fat woman's ugly friend (yes, ladies and gentlemen, an ad hominem attack) arrived and the two of them began gossiping cruelly about all sorts of appalling matters in a broadcast clearly audible throughout the store, notwithstanding the music, the cappucino machine, and all the other distracting interference.

Why, precisely, is prattling to your present friend morally superior, or less intrusive, than chatting in dulcet tones with your absent colleague?

Then, two guys with laptops at different tables started talking loudly across the restaurant, not just for a minute, but for an extended period. They're still going, and they are much louder than me on my phone. Yet the gossiping fat woman hasn't shushed them.

As far as I'm concerned, there can only be three explanations for this woman's behavior.

1. Rank, self-centered hypocrisy.

2. An ideological hatred of cell phones, or cell phone users.

3. Frustration over the unfulfilled dropping of eaves -- she could only hear one side of the conversation, and that annoyed her.

As a naturally loud person who is often shushed just for being loud -- I am sure that I have spoiled many a meal for innocent diners, which is why I avoid quiet restaurants -- I appreciate that some people "screen" better than others. If I'm too loud, I try to quiet down when people ask me politely. But do not single out one-sided cell phone conversations for intervention and then give other cacaphony a free pass. And if you are going to request that I be quiet, do not then burden me with the incessant flapping of your gums and shrill cackle of your scornful, derisive laugh.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 13, 05:15:00 PM:

It's impolite to speak on a cell phone at a restaurant. Period. It is equally impolite, as you suggest, to have a face-to-face conversation that bothers others.

If you need to take a call (hopefully having been vibrated rather than rung), then excuse yourself and go to the lobby until the call is finished, apologizing to your tablemates when you return.

Starbuck's is different, though. It's not quite a restaurant, and is more of a gathering spot -- the agora of 21st century America. An unobtrusive cell phone conversation seems perfectly fine there.

The large woman probably sensed your delight at the vibration when the call came in, came over to see why you were so happy, and was disappointed to find out that it was only a phone call.  

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