Whether on a bus, train or ferry, in a store, at the movie theater, in an office (or practically any public place), I find myself bombarded by the rings of cell phones or the alerts and alarms of personal digital assistants.
For me, the worst of such fairly common experiences takes place early in the morning, when I board the ferry to commute across the San Francisco Bay. This arguably could be the world's best commute in terms of beauty and nature. But then, a cell phone invariably rings. And there I am at 6 a.m., still waking to the world while being forced to hear conversations such as "buy, sell," and on and on.
True, some places now have mandated cell phone-free zones. But outside compulsion only addresses part of the solution. A little communications gadgets etiquette is in order.
People do not want to hear other people's cell phone calls. If they thought about it, I'm sure the folks on the calls probably wouldn't want to share the contents of their calls either. And I'm sure most of you are not thrilled about being forced to listen to alerts and alarms from other people's PDAs.
So here's an original thought: Set your cell phones and PDAs to vibrate and not make noise (it's in the directions). If there is an incoming communication, you do not always need to pick up and respond immediately--especially in public when this will inevitably disturb others.
Some may object that I'm trying to hold back the wheels of progress. Not at all. Once upon a time, we did not have the technology to instantaneously communicate with each other. Guess what? The world did not fall apart based on a slightly delayed response.
In some ways, the more we supposedly are connected, the more we are growing apart. Many of us have been present for in-person meetings, yet most of the people in attendance are busy reaching out elsewhere on their BlackBerries or Treos.
Of course, easier said than done. As a recovering BlackBerry junkie, I have a confession to make: I have an instant reflex to constantly check my 'Berry for incoming messages. But I try not to bother others. I don't speak too loudly--or even at all--on my cell phone when I'm in public. Really.
I even am trying not to look at my BlackBerry during meetings. I may use it to take pertinent notes and to calendar items relating to the discussion, but I am seeking not to wander elsewhere through this device such that I am not present for those people who are with me in the moment.
So, whatever happened to peace and quiet? Let's together try to bring some of that back into our lives. The sky will not fall. We may even find ourselves refreshed and more capable of handling our daily tasks.
is a partner in the San Francisco office of . His focus includes information technology and intellectual-property disputes. To receive his weekly columns, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Subscribe" in the subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only, and it should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.
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