phoneBy Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and the Boston City Paper, 5/2007

While I am generally not prone to murderous rage, I think one day I’m just going snap and bludgeon a cell phone user to death, and I think I have a fair chance that a jury will be sympathetic.

The general public has taken a technological marvel (a cell phone) that was supposed to make our lives more convenient and accessible, and turned it into something that has amplified rudeness to the nth degree.

I acknowledge that cell phones are handy and have become as much as part of our daily life as, oh, I don’t know, breathing. They have a purpose and can be useful. I (reluctantly) own one and yes, it has come in handy on more than one occasion. But I barely use the thing. I have a five hour a month plan and I doubt I’ve ever gone over 90 minutes.

I am clearly in the minority here. The larger percentage of the people I encounter daily are at some point in the day doing something else while yapping on the cell phone. Invariably, I am in a trapped situation (train / work / elevator / canoe) where I can’t get away and am therefore subjected to VERY LOUD TALKING and a conversation I: a) am not part of; b) is none of my business and c) could not possibly care less about.

“I’M ON THE TRAIN!” they say thirty times. “I SAID I’M ON THE TRAIN! I’M GOING TO LOSE YOU! I’M ON THE TRAIN. WE’RE GOING THROUGH THE TUNNEL! I’M GOING TO LOSE YOU!”

Oh, you’re about to lose something, all right.

Cute story: I was riding the Red Line one night with my mom. A guy on his cell started the “I’M ON THE TRAIN” thing, and I was so annoyed that so I pulled my cell phone from my jacket, flipped it open, and started doing the same thing. “I’m at south Station. SOUTH STATION! I’M ON THE TRAIN!” My mom thought it was hilarious. The guy on the cell phone making all the noise? Right over his head. Never got the joke.

I love the people who get on the cell phone and start yelling at their kids / spouse / partner / hamster. You’d think they’d be embarrassed. They are clearly not. To reiterate: A conversation I: a) am not part of; b) is none of my business and c) could not possibly care less about.

I’m all for freedom of speech, but how about shutting the thing off when it’s not appropriate (church, theater, movie, anger management class, school room, etc).

Newsflash #1: Guess what? You aren’t carrying the nuclear launch codes and you’re not a thoracic surgeon on call. It’s OK to be out of reach for 30 minutes. Let them leave a message. Let them call back.

Every time I am in a public bathroom and I hear someone in a stall on a cell phone, I deliberately flush as many toilets as possible. I want the person on the other end of the cell phone to know where the call is originating. Blech!

I really dislike the people who are in line for anything (bank, supermarket, food) who conduct a transaction while on the phone. It is really rude to the person behind the counter. “I’M AT THE STORE. THE STORE! NO, I’M PAYING NOW. YES, I GOT THE PICKLED BAT NECTAR!”

And even I — quiet, little old me — broke character and gave a woman at Stop & Shop a baleful (great word, that) stare when she was talking so loudly on her phone that my ears actually hurt.

Newsflash #2: Cell phone technology today is really good. Unlike two tin cans and a string, YELLING IS NOT NECESSARY ON A CELL PHONE.

But believe it or not, I have a bigger issue with cell phones: The Ring Tone. Cell phone ring tones are loud and intrusive. Like a fire alarm, they let you know something bad is about to happen. They are the worst thing about cell phones because suddenly every cell phone user needs to PERSONALIZE their cell phone experience — usually as shrill and deafeningly as possibly.

And God help us, ring tones are big business. HUGE business. They are not going away.

Newsflash #3: You think your ring tone makes a personal statement about you — you’re right — for most of you, it says you are deaf and like to annoy people. It also shows you are unprofessional, rude, and in many cases, childish.

MY cell phone rings by going beep-beep-beep. Quietly. That’s it. My hearing is fantastic. If it were not, I’d set the volume A LITTLE BIT louder, or set the phone to vibrate, I would not chose the highest setting because that would bother other people. But I’m me. Y’know, um … Considerate of others.

My phone does not play Justin Timberlake’s “Sexyback” uncensored version (woman at work, real professional); it does not play “Joyful, Joyful” (guy in store); or ring loudly like an old-style telephone (jerk on commuter rail). It does not play the Mission Impossible theme loudly (guy at work); or announce “CALL FROM MOBILE 617-555-1212” before it breaks into a jazzy tune (guy on subway).

As I am writing this, I noticed that a co-worker has changed her ring tone to a VERY VERY LOUD series of chimes and chirps. I jumped a mile when it went off. She gave me a sheepish grin. I mollified myself by imagining the phone being ground to pieces in a tree chipper.

Oh, not to worry — it’s not like I have PTSD or anything. Oh, wait a minute, yes, I do.

Here’s a metaphor to clarify. If you suffer from bad allergies, the loud cell phone ring tone is the woman who gets on the bus wearing three gallons of bad perfume and holding a box of ragweed pollen.

Newsflash #4: Guess what? A cell phone is also called a MOBILE PHONE. That means you can take it with you. So stop leaving it on your desk and allow your loud ring tones to go off unabated.

I’ve searched for solutions, from the: a) violent but effective (smash the offending cell phone with a hammer — probably not a good career move) to: b) the tried and true (remove the battery, shut off the phone, ditto) to the: c) wimpy (leave an anonymous note, not my style). None of these are options for me, and I’m not the type to get confrontational on the commuter rail with every jerk (and there are hundreds of them) who want to share their: a) earth-shattering ring tone; b) private life; c) argument; with the rest of us.

Piercing ring tones and deafening, lengthy cell phone calls in public places are an invasion of privacy, inconsiderate, annoying, and discourteous.

I don’t want to see an outbreak of cell-phone violence. I don’t want new laws and regulations — I just want a massive dose of common courtesy. I want people to understand that cell phone usage in certain public situations is inappropriate, rude, and offensive, or at the very least should be conducted discretely and quietly, and briefly. Your cell phone ring tone and conversation should not bother other people.

So, please? Can you turn it down? Can you make the call later? Can you switch to a ring tone that’s not so shrill?

On behalf of the millions of us who suffer your cell phone abuse every day, we would greatly appreciate it.

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