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I don't want to hear you now
Scripps Howard News Service


April 14, 2005

Can you hear me now?



According to a recent poll, you probably don't want to hear me when I'm talking on my cell phone. And I certainly don't want to hear you.

I'm not talking about reception here. I'm talking about people using their phones nearby, forcing us to listen to their conversations. I'm talking about phones jingling during movies or concerts. I'm talking about people driving very badly while gabbing on the phone.

I'm often agitated over these irritations. Not surprising, given that I tend to be an old sorehead, but it turns out that I'm not alone.

The recent University of Michigan poll, reported by the Associated Press, found that public cell phone use is "a major irritation" to six in 10 people. About four in 10 said there should be a law banning people from using cell phones in museums, movie theaters and restaurants. Eight in 10 said they believe cell phone use while driving is a major safety hazard.

The poll also found, however, that people like the convenience of cell phones. Eighty percent said the phones have made their lives easier.

"These findings suggest Americans have mixed feelings about cell phone use," said Mitchell "No Duh" Traugott, a researcher for the university's Institute for Social Research.

People want to use their cell phones whenever they want, but they think other people are annoying when they do the same.

It's this very selfishness that causes problems in the first place. Good manners require that you don't disturb others, for whatever reason, but selfish people put their own needs first. They need to talk on the phone right now, and the rest of us can go hang.

A few examples from my own life:

An intricate ring tone started up in a movie theater. Apparently, the phone's owner had carefully concealed the phone in her purse because it took four or five rings to locate it. "Hello?" she brayed. "I'm in a movie right now." She went on to name the movie and give a capsule review of what she'd seen so far. The audience grumbled and hissed, but she was oblivious.

I was behind a car traveling slower than the speed limit, at night, in the fast lane. The car was labeled all over for a driving school, which meant the lone occupant was a driving instructor talking on the phone. I had to wonder what he teaches his students about driving and yakking.

My family waited on a plane at a crowded airport. A guy directly behind my wife used his cell phone to discuss a pending business deal, loud enough to be heard on Mars. Bad enough, but he also used the "f-word" as if it were punctuation. Finally, my wife had enough. She wheeled and shouted, "Hey, knock it off." He sheepishly got off the phone.

(Two points here: One, when my wife gets mad, people, um, knock it off. And, two, she was angry because this guy was talking ugly when children were present. Not that our own teens haven't heard the "f-word" before; they've been nearby when I've attempted plumbing repairs. But other people's children . . .)

Look, I own a cell phone myself. It is convenient. It's great in times of emergency. But I keep other people in mind when I use it. I go off by myself when I talk on the phone. I turn off the ringer at public events. I almost never use it while driving.

These are just good manners, folks. Practice them. Because if you keep bugging the rest of us, there's a good chance that six in 10 people will want to throttle you.

If one of them is my wife, you'd better knock it off.


Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Boost."
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)

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