While cell phones are an amazing invention and certainly keep us more in touch with the world, have cell phones made us rude?  When having a conversation that would be whispered between two people in a crowded place, why is it OK to have the same conversation on a cell phone at full volume?  I have heard people having serious relationship discussions walking around Taco Bell.  I have heard people brokering business deals for large sums of money while getting a bagel.  I have heard people talking about their childrens discipline problems while waiting in line at the bank.  The ubiquitous cell phones require a new set of etiquette standards.  Where is Emily Post when we really need her?  The proper time to take that call is not every time that one has a signal.


Ten years ago, only the privileged had cell phones.  Now, with service providers literally giving them away, most of us have them.  According to a 2003 Associated Press article, there are 140 million cell phones in America, up from about 92,000 in 1984. About 7 million people in this country use only cellular phones, said Travis Larson, spokesman for the industry group Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.  About 18% of Americans consider their cell phone as their primary number, Larson said. 


As a comic who performs in live shows where people pay money to attend, I am insulted by people who have cell phones ringing and interrupting the show.  The MC for the evening usually asks that everyone turn off their cell phones, and I always do.  The loud techno music rings that seem to be in vogue now are incredibly distracting, especially as Im trying to get to the punchline of my joke about low-carb diets.  Is it the selfishness or self-importance that comes from being an American that stops us from being unavailable for two hours?  Can we not just be present and enjoy the moment without wondering if someone else is trying to call us?  Are we afraid that if we miss a call were in fact missing an opportunity to be doing something else, maybe something better than what were doing right now? 


The hands-free devices make me doubt my own sanity.  The first time I encountered one of these was a couple of years ago in the Oakland Airport.  A tall man built like a line-backer walked up to me and said, Then they put me in jail!  Can you believe that?!  Um, no, I stammered back, thinking that this large man was probably crazy and might even want to hurt me.  He laughed and said, Hold on a minute.  This girl thinks Im talking to her.  Im using a hands-free device, sweetheart.  Trying to look hip and up with the trends, I said, Oh yeah, thats what I thought.  He obviously thought I was a moron, and I felt embarrassed.  Hands-free devices can make you think that a person is insane and talking to themselves or that theyre trying to talk to you.  If you talk back, then YOU look like the idiot.


One of my best friends is intolerant when it comes to cell phone use, or abuse, as she sees it.  If she is out with a man on a first date and his cell phone rings in a restaurant, she is incredibly offended.  He should consider their time together important enough to have turned his cell phone off, or on vibrate at the very least.  And if he answers it?  Forget it!  There will be no second date. 


While Americans, who are known for their rudeness anyway, dont seem to get it, other countries are trying to do their part to stop people from using their cell phones everywhere.  From churches in Mexico to the Indian parliament, people have realized that requesting that cell phones are tuned off is not working.  According to Olga R. Rodriguez in a recent article, a cell phone jammer can be purchased for around $2,000.  It emits a low-level radio frequency that blocks cell phone signals within a 100-foot radius.  Its as big as a paperback book and can be turned on with a remote control.  A cell phone user will get a no service or signal not available message on their phone.  The devices were developed originally for security forces to keep other people from eavesdropping and to stop phone-triggered bombings.  In Japan, the devices are regulated to live performance venues.  Canada considered installing similar devices, but decided against it after Industry Canada, which rules all telecommunications in Canada, ruled that it could infringe on personal freedom or affect communication with law authorities during an emergency.  In the United States, cell phone jammers are still illegal. 


A cell phone is invaluable in an emergency, and anyone who can afford one should definitely have one.  If I were a mother, I would want my teenager to have a cell phone.  I would call her often to make sure she was where she said she was.  If I had any doubts, I would make her take a picture of where she was with her phone and send it to me.  As useful as these are, it would be nice to see some common sense and decency on the part of cell phone users.  If people could just turn off their cell phones for plays or concerts, there would be no need for cell phone jammers.  Just because we have the technology to talk to friends and loved ones from anywhere does not mean that its all right to do so.  I still wouldnt mind having one of those jammers for a trip to the drug store, though.





For many, their cell phone has become their only phone, Associated Press http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2003-03-24-cell-phones_x.htm


Churches Installing Cell Phone Jammers, by Olga R. Rodriguez