Cell Phones at Public Events

Delta Winds cover 2003Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Cell Phones at Public Events

Jacqui Fitzgerald

The much anticipated second Harry Potter movie opened on a Friday night. Thursday night my husband stood in line in the dark to get tickets so my son could go to opening night. We spent $21 on tickets, and another $20 on snacks. We went into the theater and found seats close to the front in the sold out theater, exactly where my son wanted to sit to see the movie. The movie-theater was packed with families waiting to see the movie. The pre-teen children who were Harry Potter fans were not a quiet crowd, but when the opening credits started to run the sold out crowd became silent. The antics of Harry and Ron in the flying car on the screen kept all eyes looking straight ahead.

All of a sudden, a ringing noise came from the coat pocket of the man behind me. He must have missed the signs on the way in asking everyone to shut their cell phones off, or he forgot. I thought there was no way a father who had his son at the movie would answer the phone. He was there to spend time with his family. Was I ever wrong? Not only did the man answer the phone, he proceeded to have a lengthy, loud conversation with someone. While Ron and Harry were flying over London and landing in the Whomping Tree, the gentleman behind me was having a conversation with the person on the other end of the phone. The phone call went like this: "Hello" then a slight pause. "No, I'm not busy but I really can't talk; I have my son at the new Harry Potter movie." Slight pause. "Yeah, it seems like it's going to be a good movie." Slight pause. The theater was packed with people watching a car falling out of a tree. The man's son was seeing his hero Harry Potter being bashed around and the child said, "Sh" to his dad. His dad said, "Yeah, okay, I'd better go and watch the movie. I'll talk to you later." By this time, I was very angry. How could this man think that I wanted to listen to his conversation? How could he be so disrespectful to the people around him? The conversation I overheard definitely didn't sound like it was an emergency. If this man had no social skills to understand it was rude to the people around him to talk on the phone when he was at a movie theater, then what about how his son must feel when his father uses family time to chat with other people?

According to Public Agenda, a nonprofit research house, I am not alone in being annoyed by a loud, public cell phone conversation. In a survey conducted, 49% of respondents said they have been annoyed by a loud mobile phone conversation in theaters or at concerts. In the same survey only 17% of cell phone owners thought they were guilty of such behavior (Gibbons 1). This means many cell phone owners are annoyed by others talking on their phones at these events, but they feel that their own conversations are not an annoyance to someone else.

The September 4, 2001 USA Today reported a survey conducted for Cingular Wireless in which 80% of the respondents had overheard cell phone conversations in restaurants and stores, more than 50% had overheard conversations at sporting events, and about 43% had been subjected to loud conversations at theaters and concerts (Sharp 2). If I have paid money to see a sporting event or concert, do I care what the person beside me, whom I don't know, has been doing for the last few days? Or how about the people who are on a cell phone in the grocery store? Not only do they weave around the aisles like they have had a few too many drinks, they also seem to think it is appropriate to use any kind of language and discuss any topic that comes to mind. It seems like every time I go out more people talk on their cell phones as if they are in their living rooms rather than in a public place.

For example, the woman in the grocery store discussing her son's failing grades and how his teacher is not doing her job, or the young girl sitting in the mall food court discussing her date from last night. Recently, a man at a funeral in Israel answered his phone while carrying a coffin. The mayor of San Diego's phone was ringing while she gave a news conference asking the public to stop using cell phones at inappropriate times in public (Sharp 3). Or the man who was talking to a used car salesman on his phone while the crowd around him was trying to view the Grand Canyon. He was repeatedly asked politely to take his phone call somewhere else. He ignored the request. Finally one listener wrote him a note "Nature: Yes. Cell phones: No." and he moved away (Sharp 2). In an extreme reaction to someone not lowering his voice while talking on a cell phone, two people shot a man in the leg when he wouldn't lower his voice (Sharp 1).

There were 120 million cell phones in the US in 2001 (Sharp 3). If everyone made one call at an inappropriate time, there would be many interrupted events. Some cities through legislation are starting to try to curb the annoyance of cell phones ringing during public performances. Has society become so egocentric that we need rules telling us how rude it is to interrupt someone else's enjoyment of an event by forcing them to listen in on a cell phone conversation? Obviously, if there are people like the man at the Harry Potter movie, someone must do something to curb this annoying behavior. There are already rules governing how loud a car can be or how loud a person can play a stereo, so it is only natural that society governs the use of cell phones.

Two San Francisco Supervisors, Chris Daley and Aaron Peskin, "have introduced legislation to prohibit the audible use of cell phones in places of public performances" (Fouhy). Ringing cell phones and people talking on the cell phone would be banned during movies, theater, concerts and lectures. Sporting events would be exempt (Fouhy). The New York City Council has approved a ban on cell phone use at concerts, plays, movies, lectures, dance recitals and other performances in the city. People are allowed to have their cell phones with them at the events, but they must just have them set to vibrate or shut off during the performance. There is a $50 dollar fine for a violation of the no cell phone rule (Cell 1). Amtrak has implemented "Quiet Cars" on the trains between Washington and Boston. Opera goers at the La Scala in Italy must check their phones in the cloakroom to ensure ringing doesn't interrupt the enjoyment of the opera (Sharp 2). Some companies have hired Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert, to tutor executives on appropriate cell phone etiquette (Gubbins).

None of these rules and regulations would be necessary if society started to think about others around them. If you are annoyed by a cell phone conversation that someone else is having, you can be sure that your conversation would be annoying to someone else. I really don't care where you have been or what you did while you were there. Write it down in a diary or speak to those who care when you are in a private place. Turn off your phone and let the rest of us enjoy the show.

Works Cited

"Cell Phone Etiquette. Maybe New York is on to Something." Editorial. Sacramento Bee 18 Feb. 2003: B6.

Fouhy, Beth. "S.F. supervisors urge ban on cell phones." Tri-Valley Herald 27 Feb. 2003: A2.

Gibbons, Edward. "Jacqueline Whitmore, Protocol School of Palm Beach." Wireless Review (1 July, 2002): 1 pg. Expanded Academic ASAP. InfoTrac Search Bank. San Joaquin Delta College Library, Stockton. 26 Feb. 2003. http//web1. infotrac.galegroup.com

Sharp, Deborah. "Cell Phones Reveal Screaming Lack of Courtesy" USA Today (4 Sept. 2001): 4 pgs. Newsbank. InfoTrac Search Bank. San Joaquin Delta College Library, Stockton. 26 Feb. 2003.