It’ll be chaos! Chaos!!!!!1

August 7, 2008

Nearly half of U.S. residents say they would oppose allowing cell phone use aboard city busses and other mass transit systems. Lawmakers said they worry that fights will erupt between passengers who talk loudly on their phones and others who find the callers obnoxious.

Of course that’s bullshit. People can and do use their phones on busses and trains. And if this freedom has resulted in the downfall of western civilization, I didn’t notice it.

So why is this such a huge deal when we’re talking about air travel? Those first two sentences above were taken almost verbatim from this piece over at CNN.com–except that I changed it from planes to other forms of transportation.

I think most of this is yet another example of how people love to demonize new technology–even as they widely embrace it. I know a building that forbids phone usage for absolutely no reason. When I asked what purpose the rule served, I got a lot of blank stares. Didn’t I know that talking on a cell phone is, you know, rude and, uh, disturbing to other people nearby? I didn’t know that, and I asked them if in-person conversations were also banned. They weren’t. But what’s the difference? Me listening to you talk to your husband on the phone is pretty similar to me listening to you talk to your husband in person–except that I can’t hear his responses.

And that I think is one of the real reasons people are so snotty about cell phones. It’s breaking some kind of unspoken rule about public communication: You can converse with someone in public, but only if we can hear all the parties involved.

I think this is because people feel somewhat slighted when you’re standing next to them and talking to someone who isn’t even there in the room with you. It’s as if we’re saying, “you’re so unimportant to me that I’d rather talk to someone miles away who I can’t even see than pay any attention to you.” I believe people feel this slight even if they have no intention of having a conversation with you. And it’s irrational.

I can see restricting phone usage in places where it might interfere with electronic equipment, or in places where quiet is needed. I can also see asking people to silence their ringers, even if talking on the phone itself is allowed. What I’m tired of is the prohibitions against talking on the phone that don’t have any rational basis.

Let people use their phones on airplanes. It’ll be a lot like it is on trains and busses. And people will be able to be more productive during their flight instead of reading the latest copy of Skymall. They might be better able to coordinate meeting up with the people meeting them on the ground, too. I’m all for it.

PS. I do wedding photography on the side, and I cannot believe the number of ceremonies that are punctuated by someone’s obnoxious cell phone ringer going off. There’s a good example of a time and place where phone use of any kind should be prohibited.


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  1. I can think of one difference. On a plane, I want to sleep, not hear obnoxious conversations and irritating cell phone rings. It is hard enough with salespeople, children, and other irritants on a plane…but just what I need! Cell phone rings and everyone talking on the phone!

    And no, I never sleep on buses or trains. Planes? I even sleep on the 15-minute flight from Milwaukee to O’Hare!

    Sure, there could be a requirement to put phasers on stun. That would work about as well as a movie theatre, where they even have that PSA to put phasers on stun…and invariably someone does not.

  2. I don’t buy it. It’s just as easy to sleep on a train as it is on a plane. Just because you have a personal preference doesn’t make them fundamentally different things. A phone on a train is a phone on a plane.

  3. I think if people would just apply a little common sense when it comes to using a cell phone in public, the whole issue would just go away.

    I see alot of people who cannot walk and chew gum at the same time let alone talk to a cashier while paying for their gas, which did happen to me at the Kwik Trip yesterday.

    There was a line about 3 people deep at all 4 of the registers and I had to pick the one with a woman whose phone call was so much more important than handing over the money to pay for her gas. So it is finally her turn to pay and the phone rings, she answers just as the woman in front of her leaves,and she had the balls to hold EVERYONE up while she took this phone call, which lasted 2 minutes and covered such earth shattering comments like NURSING SCHOOL and how she wanted to switch schools etc. and how good her boyfriend is in the sack. I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW THIS KIND OF STUFF!


    Like I said a little common sense with cell phone, in public would go quite a long way!

  4. I’m against government interfering with the lives and activities of people, but I agree with the common sense comment. I have been at airport boarding areas when the guy a few feet away is talking so loud on his cell phone that you can’t hear your own call. I was also in doctor’s waiting room and the woman across the room (about 25 ft. away) was talking for 35 minutes (it was a long wait) so loud that when she finished, everyone else in the room applauded. Restaurants are another area that I really don’t care to hear the guy at the next table talking louder on his phone than too someone at his own table.

    People need to have respect, courtesy and common sense for others in the area when using a cell phone in public whether on buses, trains, airplanes or commercial establishments. You always have people in their own world and oblivious to everyone around them. You don’t need the government passing nanny laws, just enough annoyed people around the person to politely remind them that they are being rude.

  5. I agree with you gentlemen, and yet I don’t. Of course I’m all for delivering the smackdown to rude phone users. Who wouldn’t be? They do exist, and they annoy me as much as anyone. However, I think the problem is smaller than what it’s made out to be. A much larger phenomenon is how people love to hate on phone usage. I think it’s very out or proportion to the actual problems associated with their use. I would say 50% or more of the hubub about cell phones is directly attributable to people’s fear of a technology that has infiltrated their lives so pervasively and so quickly.

  6. The phones on planes thing is silly and should be changed because what really is the difference between someone talking on their phone or to the person next to them?

  7. The difference of talking on the phone vs. talking to someone next to them is that volume. When you are on a cell phone in a quiet area, you can talk at the same or very similar volume as you would to the person next to you.

    On a plane, train, or any public place, generally you have to speak much louder to overcome the background noise. This is one of the key reasons, if not the key reason, why cell phone talkers are annoying.

    That being said, I probably use my cell phone more than 98% of all people because of my job. However, I have no problem letting a call go to voice mail when I am at a restaurant.

    On a plane, I do agree with the sleeping comment. I recently took a few international flights across the Pacific. My airfare was incredibly expensive, because I was traveling business class. The main reason for flying business class was so that I could get a decent amount of rest, so that I was able to function after the 7, 9, and 13 hour flights landed.

    It would be very annoying, frustrating, and disappointing to pay full fare for a flight with the expectation of being able to get some rest, and end up surrounded by someone talking to their new girlfriend, or discussing how to wrap up the next business deal.

    So maybe a reasonable concession would be that once the lights go off on the flight, which only happens during the evening or expected sleeping time, there is no cell phone use. I could live with that.

  8. For me, the nature of air travel makes it different than a bus or train. On a plane, I am closer physical proximity to my fellow travelers, for a longer time, and I cannot move if I don’t like where I am sitting. I’m basically a captive.The idea that it might be possible for my seatmate to spend a 4 hour flight chatting loudly with her/his best buddy is more unnerving. On a bus, if your conversation is bugging me, I can often move and, even if I can’t, chances are one of us will get off the bus in the next 10 minutes. On a plane, I’m stuck with you.

    One approach would be to have guidelines for cell phone use on planes (“please limit your calls to 5 minutes”) the same way everyone is asked to pull their window shades down for the movie. Of course, not everyone would comply. But most people would, and that’s probably all we can expect.

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