Last week, poor cellphone etiquette surfaced at the White House. During President Obama's speech, a person's cellphone began to ring among a room full of journalists and politicians. The speech, broadcast on live TV, was a top video on YouTube last week, mainly because the person's ringtone was none other than the sound of a quacking duck. The unusual ringtone not only produced bouts of laughter throughout the room, but it interrupted President Obama's train of thought, prompting him to ask "Where do you guys get these ringtones? I'm curious."
Though the president managed to brush off the distraction with a bit of humor, it's this type of uncouth cellphone behavior such as forgetting to silence your ringtone that prompted etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore to officially declare July "National Cell Phone Courtesy Month" in 2002. In her blog, Ms. Whitmore lists a few of her favorite cellphone etiquette horror stories, including one incident where a lawyer decided to have a three-way speaker phone conversation with his client and the client's publicist on an Amtrak. For the past seven years, she's tried to raise awareness on proper cellphone etiquette to "encourage the increasingly unmindful corps of cell phone users to be more respectful of their surroundings."
Cellphone etiquette 101
In December 2008, there were 270.3 million cellphone subscribers, according to the wireless industry's trade association. And it's a number that will likely continue to grow. In a recent CSM weekly story, we reported that the US government announced in May that American homes that only used cellphones had surpassed homes that only had landlines.
With this increase in cellphone usage comes a need for manners, or at least awareness. A June 2009 survey by Intel reported that 90 percent of people are annoyed by cellphone users' etiquette. The top cellphone pet peeves? Texting while driving, followed by people chatting loudly on their mobile devices.
To curb poor cellphone behavior, Whitmore has drafted a list of cellphone etiquette tips. The list includes 13 steps on improving one's cellphone manners from avoiding "cell yell" and opting to speak in a conversational tone, to alerting others around you if you have to take a call and then politely excusing yourself from a room when the call is received. Other tips mentioned are to avoid speaking about private or emotional matters in public and to let calls go straight to voicemail when you're in a meeting, performance, or courtroom.
Manners in the meeting room
Cellphones in the meeting room are a common distraction. A March 2009 poll by Yahoo HotJobs, a career listings website, reported that a third of 5,300 employees checked their e-mail in meetings. The practice of constantly checking one's BlackBerry or iPhone has been such a problem for some companies that they have banned the use of mobile devices at meetings.
But pulling out a cellphone during a meeting while the boss is talking or placing it on a table during dinner is not only seen as rude, it could also hinder business deals – or internship opportunities. The New York Times reported on a college student who pulled out a BlackBerry to refer to a note during an interview for an internship at a hedge fund, but then paused to check a text-message from a friend. He failed to secure an internship at that hedge fund. In response to the New York Times article, The Atlantic Monthly produced a visual guide to Smart Phone use in the office.
Some people are so fed up with a lack of cellphone etiquette that they've begun taking action. The website Mob Peeve, makes it easy to create a "MobPeeve Note," a notecard to notify people of their poor cellphone behavior with such phrases as "FYI – We are being forced to listen to your conversation" or "I'm asking you nicely to just turn it off, please. "
To avoid getting one of these cards, we suggest you kindly remember to silence your cellphone this month, please. Thank you.
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