November 16, 2001 4:00 AM PST

Shhh! Cell phone carriers call for etiquette

Jacqueline Whitmore's new job is to right the etiquette wrongs of more than 121 million American cell phone users.

see related story: Tips for ill-mannered cell phone users It can all be so daunting for Sprint PCS' "etiquette spokeswoman." One day she'll persuade a group of executives to switch their phones to vibrate when in meetings. The next day, she'll hear about a pallbearer carrying a casket with one hand, flipping open a ringing cell phone with the other.

"Is it a losing battle?" said Whitmore, who also runs the Protocol School of Palm Beach. "People say that to me about etiquette in general."

Whitmore's role as the "Miss Manners" of mobile commerce is one of the most visible efforts of several carriers to teach cell phone users some basic manners.

With all the other issues swirling around wireless companies--the tech flu crippling gear makers, wireless providers consolidating, the price of a cell phone call dropping nearly on a monthly basis--cell phone etiquette doesn't seem like it should take center stage.

But with cell phones being used by roughly one in three Americans, there is already a backlash against rude gabbers: Amtrak even put a ban on cell phones in some cars. Carriers are making moves now in anticipation of the reaction to when, as analysts predict, cell phones will be in the hands of 70 percent of Americans.

"Miss Manners hasn't caught...some of the 120 million cell phone users," said Travis Larson, spokesman for the Cellular Telephone and Internet Association. "These campaigns are about making people think about those around them."

Whitmore, who advises that one not display "emotions such as anger during public calls, so as not to distract those around you," has no idea how bad it really is out there: A recent survey by Wirthlin Worldwide found that nearly 40 percent of cell phone users said they would answer a cell phone call while using the bathroom.

Do not disturb
Cingular Wireless uses gentle humor in its 15-second movie trailer--shown in 160 Loews movie theaters--which urges people to put their phones in silent mode. If a phone rings, the trailer warns, the movie will be paused while the owner is asked to stand up and other moviegoers are encouraged to pelt them with jelly beans and chocolate-covered raisins.

Nearly every carrier has some type of courtesy outreach. Many, like AT&T Wireless, combine driving safety tips with courtesy nuggets--kind of like killing two cell phone ills with one mailing. Most carriers also tuck courtesy tip sheets into monthly phone bills.

Nokia has been joining the efforts as well. The company has been working with various cities, including San Diego, to create unofficial "no cell phone zones," where people are politely asked not to power up.

In Europe, Sweden's Telia Mobitel flashes cell phone etiquette warnings on billboards throughout the country. British Telecommunications in the United Kingdom even has an etiquette guide.

Verizon Communications has a pamphlet called "Thou Shall Not Take Calls in Church." In it, a cartoon character named Vern preaches the do's and don'ts of cell phone calling. But the nation's leading carrier isn't about to film a movie theater trailer.

"We feel...our customers have common sense, and (that) common courtesy will prevail," said Jim Gerace, a Verizon spokesman. "This is a minor issue that will manage itself. If there are any social issues we'd like to address with our resources, it's saving lives by driving responsibly."

The carriers could do much more, said Dorothea Johnson, director of the Protocol School of Washington.

"It is getting out of hand," said Johnson, who predicted that one day all the carriers will have an etiquette spokesman.

Ditto that sentiment from Carol Page, founder of CellManners.com, a Web site devoted to promoting responsibility among cell phone users.

"The efforts from carriers aren't adequate," she said. "They have to make a more sophisticated effort than a do's and don'ts list in your monthly bill."

But even Page has problems practicing what she preaches. She disapproves of people carrying on conversations seated in a bathroom, yet she admits to doing it herself.

"But nobody knew," she said. "I didn't flush."

 

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