September 28, 2004 3:18 PM PDT

Cell phone talker's arrest stirs etiquette debate

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The matter has been simmering for years as wireless gabbing takes place in more and more settings. For one woman in the Washington, D.C., area, it came to a head recently when she was arrested, reportedly for speaking too loudly near a bus stop.

According to a story in Tuesday's Washington Post, a transit police officer thought that the woman was disturbing the peace with loud cell-phone talk and eventually wrestled her to the ground. Police said the woman was cursing into her phone, but she said she cursed after she'd been grabbed, according to the newspaper.

Peter Post, great grandson of etiquette maven Emily Post and director of the Emily Post Institute, said the cell phone has warped people's sense of politeness. When the little brick rings, he argues, people lose sight of how they might be bothering others.

"It's gotten us into this craze that we've got to do this now," he said. "Things can wait five minutes."

Post said that the problem isn't so much how loud people are, but rather people talking on cell phones in public settings about inappropriate topics, such as the qualifications of a job candidate or details of their hysterectomies. He recalled an occasion when he was in an airport waiting room, where a woman carried on a heated argument with her husband, via cell phone, over his picking her up. The woman's call made everyone in the room uncomfortable, Post said.

And he said it doesn't work to simply disregard a rude mobile caller--people are better at ignoring two-way conversations than monologues.

"It's much, much harder to tune out that one-sided conversation," Post said. "It's very hard not to listen."

There are nearly 170 million U.S. wireless subscribers, according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association trade group. And it's hard to go anywhere without seeing--and hearing--people on their mobile phones, in stores, in restaurants and even on subway trains.

A survey published this summer by Sprint found that 80 percent of U.S. adults reported they felt people were less courteous when using a wireless phone today than five years ago.

Interestingly, people tend to see themselves as virtuous when it comes to that phone in their pocket or pocketbook. Ninety-seven percent of those surveyed classified themselves as "very courteous" or "somewhat courteous" in their use of a wireless phone.

Some companies in the wireless industry, including Sprint, have tried to advise consumers on how to mind their mobile manners. LetsTalk, which reviews cell phones and service plans, recommends that "no citizen should take a call at a theater or in the movies" and suggests that "when asked by an establishment or airline to refrain from using a cell phone, do so."

Post's advice for civil cell phone use boils down to paying more attention to one's social setting than to the little device that's begging to be answered.

"Be a master of your cell phone, not a slave," he said. "If people did that, all the other things would work themselves out."

17 comments

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Stop micro-manage people's lives
Enough is enough. Government has no business setting its foot in people's lives like this. It is not illegal to talk to other people in public place, why should people care if I am talking into a phone instead? Wouldn't that be the same noise, except I would argue that people (who are easily annoyed) should be happier since they only have to bear half of the conversation noise with cell phone. So what if it's not an important call that can be waited? If people next to me can have conversations with other people, why can't I have my conversation on the phone? What if some people find other people have conversation next to them is annoying? should we just ban any kind of talking in public all together?
Regardless, government has no business making regulations on something as small and stupid as this. Please use the government's time and effort, which the tax payers are paying for, on something much more meaningful and important than this.
Posted by tigerjuju (39 comments )
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Ummm.....
Did you even read the article?

Nothing in it mentions proposed legislation or other government action to curb cell phone usage. The only hint of anything involving government was the mention of an arrest, but that was an isolated case.

The article mentions that it is generally more difficult to ignore one-way conversations. It also mentions that cell phones make it possible for people to talk to anyone, anywhere, and at any time, and that cell phone users therefore end up talking about inappropriate things at times. This is how cell phone usage differs from normal conversation.

Next time, try reading the article before commenting.
Posted by TimeBomb (70 comments )
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It can be illegal
It is illegal for you to commit assault, or to disturb the peace. It can also be illegal to use profane language in a given location or setting. It does not require a cell phone to accomplish, and the laws are not written to prohibit or control cell phone use.

It comes down to the greater good. If one person is getting the "good", and 20 others are having to suffer for the other persons enjoyment, then that is NOT the greater good.
Posted by zaz.net (46 comments )
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It's about time
If this woman was legitimately cursing into her phone at a volume that other people could clearly hear, then the police were absolutely justified in stopping her. Obviously something aroused their attention, and I find it hard to believe that her volume was all that attracted their attention, as she claims.

Futhermore, a police officer doesn't tackle someone to simply detain them, but rather in a case of noncompliance. I would suspect that the woman was beligerant and escalated the situation when all she would have had to do to resolve it would be to quiet down and watch her language. While the first amendment protects free speech, it does not protect "lewd and obscene, profane, libelous and insulting or 'fighting' words" (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 1942). I believe the police were justified in their actions and hope that the judicial system upholds their actions through a conviction of this woman.
Posted by jasonw3 (3 comments )
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cursing is a crime?
Since when police should be arrested for cursing? If someone cursing to another person should not be arrested for it, why should someone cursing into a phone be arrestd? Now if the woman resisted to the police, the police has the right to arrest the woman. But if the police got on the woman just for cursing into a phone, I'd said the police should not have to right to start the whole episode.
Posted by tigerjuju (39 comments )
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Cell phone use has become absurd
I've had a cell phone for years, and it amazes me the places I see people using cell phones. It's irritating enough when people talk on them in stores, but restaurants, movie theaters, etc. are just unacceptable. If the call is important enough for you to need to take right then and there, at least have the courtesy to step outside and talk. But by far, the most ridiculous and irritating use 've ever seen is people who talk on cell phones IN BATHROOMS. I'm not talking "I think I'm having a heart attack and I need an ambulance now" type calls, I mean "I was at the mall today and bought the coolest little black dress" type calls.

Also mind-boggling to me are the people who leave their cell phones on during business meetings and job interviews. If you really need to be reachable at all times, like if your wife's going to go into labor, then put the damn thing on vibrate. And even then, if it does ring, DO NOT ANSWER IT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MEETING!! Again, step outside and take/return the call.

One last thing, what's with all the complete idiots who insist on driving and using their cell phones without the hands-free devices? I live in Jersey, where it's ILLEGAL (that means against the law!) to use a cell phone without a hands-free device. For everyone who doesn't know what that means, that means that you can't drive while holding the cell phone up to your ear. Yet I see dozens of people every day (and those are just the few I happen to notice!) yapping away with that damn phone glued to their ear. To those people, I say: buy a vowel.
Posted by (2 comments )
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Cell phone use has become absurd
I've had a cell phone for years, and it amazes me the places I see people using cell phones. It's irritating enough when people talk on them in stores, but restaurants, movie theaters, etc. are just unacceptable. If the call is important enough for you to need to take right then and there, at least have the courtesy to step outside and talk. But by far, the most ridiculous and irritating use 've ever seen is people who talk on cell phones IN BATHROOMS. I'm not talking "I think I'm having a heart attack and I need an ambulance now" type calls, I mean "I was at the mall today and bought the coolest little black dress" type calls.

Also mind-boggling to me are the people who leave their cell phones on during business meetings and job interviews. If you really need to be reachable at all times, like if your wife's going to go into labor, then put the damn thing on vibrate. And even then, if it does ring, DO NOT ANSWER IT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MEETING!! Again, step outside and take/return the call.

One last thing, what's with all the complete idiots who insist on driving and using their cell phones without the hands-free devices? I live in Jersey, where it's ILLEGAL (that means against the law!) to use a cell phone without a hands-free device. For everyone who doesn't know what that means, that means that you can't drive while holding the cell phone up to your ear. Yet I see dozens of people every day (and those are just the few I happen to notice!) yapping away with that damn phone glued to their ear. To those people, I say: buy a vowel.
Posted by (2 comments )
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It's not the hand, it's the conversation
Research shows that it's not the hand that's hold the phone is distracting drivers, it is the conversation this is the real distraction. I think you can find a good number of people who don't usually drive with both hands. I can't see how using the free hand to hold a phone (or whatever else) would make a difference.

That being said, I don't think government should regulate cell phone use in the car unless they are ready to also out-law people making conversations with other passengers in the car.
Posted by tigerjuju (39 comments )
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Irritated why?
I think we are irritated by somebody making a phonecall not because of that person speaking (too) loud but because we only hear half the conversation.

When people near us talk to each other we listen in and mentally join that conversation, even will form an opinion on people and subject concerned. But politely we look the other way, pretending not to hear.

But when we can only hear half of a conversation we feel excluded and in a very basic reaction tend to be irritated, to loose our temper.
Wouter Werner
Posted by wouter werner (5 comments )
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Irritated DUH!!!!
Trying not to listening to some moron drone on about the hot date he had, is typically not possible when the inconsiderate prick is sitting beside us talking loudly because his, like all cell service sucks. I have no interest in mentally joining his conversation, I have much more fun mentally taking the cell phone away and jamming it up his nether regions. Do not attempt to psycho babble excuses for inconsiderate jerks to intrude on everyone around them with their retarded one sided conversations. I guess you have never tried to carry on a conversation with a real person sitting next to you when 2 or 3 cell devotees are blabbering away to their insignificant other loser friends. Give me a break from Cell phone losers.
Posted by nothingavailable (53 comments )
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