In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Bloghelp | Main | This Summer's Fashions »

July 22, 2004

More Cell Phone Annoyances

Dear Vanessa --

Those people who continue talking on the cellphone even while paying the cashier? How can anyone be so rude? And how's the cashier supposed to take their behavior? Nate Davis has been the cashier; he tells how fond he is of rude cellphone behavior here.

Being one of Manhattan's few cellphone-free inhabitants myself, I see no upside whatsoever in the devices. As far as I'm concerned, all they've introduced into my life are a lot of unwanted externalities: madly-gabbing one-armed drivers; pedestrians who weave about erratically while waving their arms (a genuine nuisance in NYC, where sidewalks are narrow and crowded); cab drivers overexcited to be in touch with relatives in Nigeria. Worst of all: colleagues who leave work early because you can "reach them on the cell" after all -- but who, when you do call them, can't concentrate, struggling as they are with bad connections and screaming kids.

At the doctor's today, I discovered yet another bummer: waiting rooms have been changed for the worse by cellphones. Perverse though it may sound, I used to enjoy the half-hour wait for the doctor. The air conditioning ... the magazines I'd never read otherwise ... the dozing and deep-breathing ...

What with cellphones, though, the half-hour wait for the doc has become one long annoyance. There's the beeping and chirping to contend with, as well as the one-sided, overloud conversations. Today, I got to hear a business deal being hashed out; a Daddy being implored repeatedly to give his daughter more money; and train reservations get arranged. There was also the inevitable conversation about where exactly the cellphonist is located. ("Well, I'm in the doctor's waiting room right now. I got here about ten minutes ago, and blah blah ...") Not a single one of these cellphone gabbers made any effort to go out into the hall and leave the rest of us in peace.

Are you any good at triumphing in these situations? I'm not. "Glaring," my usual weapon of choice, serves no purpose in NYC, where people make faces back at you and double their volume levels. I'm too polite a mid-American -- or maybe just too terrified -- to try scolding people for their bad manners. New Yorkers like nothing better than someone who's telling them to act decently; it gives them a target to heap abuse on. Shush someone, or (worse) tell them to be considerate, and the word "fascist" is guaranteed to be launched at you within seconds. Inside of a minute, you'll find yourself saddled with blame for slavery, various wars, and gas-price hikes. So I keep to myself, writhe impotently, and wind up feeling bad about my impotence.

But, given that none of my companions in the doctor's waiting-room looked even the slightest bit peeved by all the cellphone rudeness going on around them, I guess the battle for quiet and civility has already been lost. And the BBC reports here that Europeans love love love their cellphones, and feel they can't live without 'em.



posted by Michael at July 22, 2004


My local Gristedes has signs at the registers that say NO CELL PHONES! NO FOOD! These have no affect on the cashiers eating while they talk on their cell phones (leaving no hand free for work).

I was in the Post Office recently standing in front of someone gabbing loudly on her phone who felt an inch or two was the proper distance to keep between herself and me. When I finally got to the front of the line I intentionally moved a few feet away from her.

She stayed glued to me. I turned around and said, "I moved to get away from your conversation."


On the other hand, I love my own gadgets. Choosing just the right phone in London and getting the right SIM card in Italy was the source of hours of amusement:

Posted by: john massengale on July 22, 2004 9:04 PM

My wife and I both have graduate degrees and live in the high tech city of Boston. Yet, we each seem to have found the right spouse as neither of us has a cell nor wants one.

That said, I think the height of rudeness has passed. The public displays that you mention go on unabated, but I think people's private behavior has wised up a bit. My worst experiences were always when serving a dinner to a long lost friend, and watching them take a (brief) call at my table. The cell has no respect for sacred spaces, but my friends are now learning to turn it off at appropriate times.

My favorite anecdote comes from the editor of Cemetary Danse (a horror story monthly, of all things). He was reading enjoyable to himself at an airport when the man next to him starts gabbing away on his cell. Making no effort to give anyone around him space, the cell guy just gets louder and louder. So, finally, the editor starts reading aloud from his book -- really turning up the volume. Cell guy looks startled, then alarmed, then cups the phone and asks what the hells going on.

The editor says, "I thought it was so kind of you to let me in on your conversation that I thought you'd like to know what I was reading."

Posted by: Robert Holzbach on July 22, 2004 9:09 PM

I used to think it rude when two people spoke loudly to each other while standing in line. Now I long for the days when at least you got to hear both sides of the conversation.

Posted by: susan on July 23, 2004 5:56 AM

The technology isn't finished yet.

I give it another year or two, and you'll be able to talk on the cell phone quietly and the other person will be able to hear you loud and clear. Then some of these problems will go away.

It's interesting, though, how the introduction of this device has highlighted all the various expected sound levels in different places. We've got some sort of instinct that lets us figure out, instantly, how loud or quiet to be in various settings; it's mainly when your environment changes (by putting a cell phone to your ear and introducing a conversation partner on the other end of it) while everyone else's environment stays the same (since they're not on cell phones) that your voice goes out of sync with what's expected in the physical room.

I guess it's not so much instinct, then, as just a learning process, and it takes some of us time to incorporate cell phones into our customs. We'll evolve, the devices will evolve, and interactions will start to go more smoothly again until some new piece of technology shakes things up again.

It amuses me that you'll still occasionally hear cell phone users accused of "showing off", as if the devices were still affordable only to doctors and lawyers, as they were years ago.

Posted by: Ken on July 23, 2004 9:31 AM

There are more mobile phones in use in Sweden, than there are Swedes. A lot of people have a private phone and one paid for by their work.

A recent Dutch survey revealed that 70% of our 9-year olds has a mobile phone.

Of course, we don't have to pay for incoming calls, like you seem to do in the US. And a lot of people just call with pre-paid cards.

Still, because they're ubiquitous people's public behaviour has become better lately. But, there has always been loud talking in public places, so it will never be perfect.

A couple of years ago it used to be normal that my students would answer their incoming calls, while I was lecturing. [I always stopped talking, and made them the center of attention, as I was for some stupid reason not allowed to confiscate the phones]. That was a time I would have agreed with your rant. But, it all balances out.

Posted by: ijsbrand on July 23, 2004 9:51 AM

Cell phones are obnoxious and fascist inventions.

Posted by: annette on July 23, 2004 10:37 AM

I was at a movie theater once using the ladies room while listening to the woman's conversation on her cell phone in the next stall. I can only imagine what the person on the other end of the phone conversation was hearing in the background.

Posted by: Deb on July 23, 2004 10:41 AM

Great piece of advice from Mr. Holzbach! I wish I had a paperback book in my back pocket this morning @ Dunkin D's, so I could let the flippy skirted hoopla-haired twenty-something in front of me know I was reading olde English. Unfortunately, I didn't. Instead, I had to hear her, via cellphone with an officemate (Beth, if you must know), order a dozen donuts and 5 coffees. Each donut required the longevity and conversational intensity last displayed when the Vietnam Peace Talk participants took 6 months to decide the shape of the negotiating table. If there were any day old donuts hanging about in a "Specials" basket, I would have clubbed her mercilessly. Instead, I hummed "Inagaddadavida"....loudly. Note to Self: Always carry around a paperback.

Posted by: DarkoV on July 23, 2004 10:51 AM

The best suggestion I've seen for dealing with annoying cell phone conversations is to start transcribing every word, very obviously.

Posted by: mallarme on July 23, 2004 11:10 AM

Snort, snicker, LOL, etc -- I haven't run across writing that's made me laugh so much in quite a while as this comment thread.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 23, 2004 11:51 AM

mallarme: "The best suggestion I've seen for dealing with annoying cell phone conversations is to start transcribing every word, very obviously."

Brilliant. I'd recommend asking how the occasional name is spelled to add to the effect.

"Excuse me, was that Cheryl with a 'C' or Sheryl with an 'S'?"

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on July 23, 2004 2:43 PM

I'll have to remember to take paper and pencil into the toilets with me next time I go to a movie--and then slip the transcription under the stall wall for them to verify for spelling accuracy.

Posted by: Deb on July 23, 2004 6:03 PM

I agree that society will adjust to cell phones.

Some may remember the late '70s when young people carried loud-playing radios in the streets and everywhere. Cities enacted statutes against playing radios in buses. Then came the Sony Walkman. I thought those head-phone wearers were so rude to shut out the sounds of our communal urban life! Now I'm glad if the person next to me is quiet.

Posted by: Val Ann C on July 23, 2004 6:04 PM

"Some may remember the late '70s when young people carried loud-playing radios in the streets and everywhere. Cities enacted statutes against playing radios in buses."

Yes, the old boomboxes on the shoulder! I'll never forget that scene in Star Trek when Spock gives one boombox-blaring punk the Vulcan Nerve Pinch and the whole bus applauds when his falling head switches off the device. And it never occured to me until this very moment that I haven't seen or heard that form of rudeness in many years.

Posted by: Ken on July 24, 2004 2:50 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?