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The Cell Phone Backlash
by Jon Gordon
January 10, 2000
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Like it or not, we're in the middle of the wireless revolution. Nearly 80 million Americans use cell phones now, and experts say that number will grow rapidly over the next five years. Then there are pagers, portable Internet appliances, and personal organizers. Problem is, all these devices make noise, and users often behave poorly in public places. In Minnesota and across America, noisy wireless machines are increasingly unwelcome in public places.

IN HIS SMALL, independent Minneapolis record store, Mark Trehus listened to a mournful song by Townes Van Zandt, the kind of song that makes you feel it's just you and the singer, alone. But suddenly Trehus heard that familiar sound: a cell phone.
Trehus: I just think it's really disrespectful for people to use a cell phone in the store. You're trying to create a certain environment for yourself and your shoppers and all the sudden the phone rings and someone starts yakking about the latest on Wall Street. I just don't feel it's appropriate for this particular place of business.
Trehus promptly taped a blue piece of paper on the door of the Oar Folkjokeopus record store, which reads: "Absolutely no cell phone use in the store! Violators will be asked to leave!"

Increasingly, public places are banning pagers and cell phones. The Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis will ask you to turn off your phone and set your pager to vibrate before you watch a movie. The Old Towne dinner theater in Worthing, South Dakota will take your wireless device along with your overgarments at the hat check station.

As wireless devices proliferate, more people are getting angry at the people using them. Many folks have tales of being at a funeral service when a pager beeps, or watching the latest Hollywood release when some jerk answers his cell phone and carries on a hushed conversation.

Carissa Green encountered cell phone shenanigans while attending her sister's graduation ceremony from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
Green: During the invocation, which of course is the solemn prayer that opens the ceremony, a phone went off. And not only did it ring but it played the William Tell Overture, the Lone Ranger theme. We work so hard to make things like that beautiful and then we forget our etiquette and let it all fall apart.
Why do cell phones and pagers bother us so much? For one thing, people tend to talk really loud, as if they have to make up for the great distance between caller and callee. Lou Cartier of Omaha, Nebraska is offended by people who shout into their phones in public places. And he says a cell phone makes many people look impossibly self-important.
Cartier: It gives one an artificial sense of awesome, unlimited power. You can make a call from anywhere to anywhere at anytime of day in any place, and I think that makes some people giddy with power. And when you're feeling giddy you just think about yourself and too often you don't take into account the community around you.
Wireless technology is developing faster than social rules to govern their use. So, what can de do to get along? Ann Humphries, a consultant who advises corporate America on manners and etiquette, says it's never excusable to leave your pager on or accept a phone call in a place where others expect quiet, like a movie theater. But if you're bothered by people chatting on cell phones in other places, Humphries says, better get used to it.
Humphries: I'm getting over hearing them in the video stores and the grocery stores and the super stores. You know, you see people talking on them while they're shopping. I used to be offended by that, but now I think that's absolutely fine.
Back at the Oar Folkjokeopus record store, Mark Trehus says even though he hates cell phones, he can abide some rudeness in certain situations.
Trehus: In all honesty I'll gauge how many CDs that person has under his arm before how I decide how strictly I want to enforce the rule.