Cell phone etiquette? What's that?

Scott Hilyard

The phone rings, well, not so much rings as unleashes a blast of music that's both vaguely familiar and hard to pinpoint. What is that, samba? Bossa nova? The Macarena?

"Hullo," says a voice in the darkened room.


"Not much," says the same voice. "Just sitting here in the movie theater watching a movie."

Reaction from the rest of the audience, who actually were watching a movie and not talking on their phones, ranges from the benign - an eye roll and a knowing are-you-kidding-me shake of the head to the darkly malignant - violent flights of fantasy involving the swift and righteous removal of the offending cell phone from its user's greasy grip and a 10-pound sledgehammer.

Judge, jury AND executioner.

A recent survey, commissioned by Intel, quantified what just about everybody has sensed: The blatant misuse of cell phones and other wireless devices in public is rampant and getting worse.

The most irritating behaviors were the use of mobile devices while driving, loud talking on a phone in public and walking in the street while texting or talking. Phone use has gotten so clueless among a certain segment of society that businesses have posted "please no cell phone use" signs on their check-out counters.

"People become frustrated and angry when they come across an expectation that is not being met, violating a social norm, like speaking loudly in a crowded elevator," said Timothy Bruce, a clinical psychologist and assistant chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria.

"Will we change our expectations and be accepting of the new behaviors, or send a message to offenders that their behavior must change? I don't see that conflict getting resolved any time soon."

Twenty percent of survey respondents admitted to poor cell phone etiquette themselves, a paradox that Bruce chalks up to fundamental attribution error.

"When people see someone misusing a cell phone they see the behavior as an example of the person's traits," he said. "When we do the same thing that makes us angry in others, we describe the behavior as situational - 'I was tired, or busy,' or some other excuse.'"

"People are just rude," explains Keli Scotti of East Peoria, Ill., who said she tries to be aware of her surroundings when talking on her cell phone in public. "In restaurants, people are loud on their phones, they're arguing and yelling in public. It's not just cell phones, it seems to be society in general."

Maria Varnet, a Bradley University student who lives in Morton, Ill., works in a local coffee shop. She sat at a table in Copper River Coffee and Tea in Peoria recently, quietly taking advantage of the shop's free Wi-Fi and studying with her ear buds connected to her laptop so as not to disturb the other customers.

"It's kind of frustrating when you're trying to take an order from a customer and they're holding up a finger for you to wait until they're done with their phone conversation," Varnet said. "It happens a lot."


Cell phone etiquette

Intel commissioned a survey that basically proved that blatant misuse of cell phones and other wireless devices in public is rampant and getting worse. Intel polled 2,000 U.S. adults and got the following results:

91 percent: Said they have seen people misuse wireless technology.

75 percent: Said they think mobile manners have declined in just the past year.

65 percent: Admitted they became angry around mobile misusers.

20 percent: Respondents who admitted to poor cell phone etiquette themselves.

Scott Hilyard can be reached at shilyard@pjstar.com.