Friday, November 16, 2007

Them Cellular Tellyphones

Today’s subject of interest to Grammar is cell phones. Cell phone etiquette is something everybody has strong opinions about, and it seems to me that this is one area that quite sharply divides the generations. My parents’ generation pretty much believes they are instruments of the devil, my children’s generation is working on a way to implant them permanently in their heads, and we Boomers in between like the technology but are not obsessed with it.

Accordingly, etiquette rules between these three generations will run the gamut from Use Only in Case of Emergency to There is No Place, No Time, no Circumstance where Cell phone use is not appropriate.

You can find all kinds of websites that have some version of “The Ten Commandments of Cell Phone Use” (presumably all written by people over 40). In my opinion, you only need four simple rules. You may talk at will on your phone if:
1. you are in a place where it is not otherwise inappropriate to speak aloud;
2. you are speaking at the same volume you would to a person standing right next to you;
3. you are not ignoring someone who is there in person in favour of your phone, unless they have given you permission to do so;
4. you are not driving a car, unless you have a Bluetooth headset thingy. (I don’t know what they call those things.)

This means, for example, that I believe it is quite acceptable to speak on your phone on a bus, at a bus stop, in a restaurant (notwithstanding rule 3, above), or any other public place where people are speaking aloud. I fail to see any difference between two people sitting behind me on the bus having a banal conversation with each other and one person behind me on the bus having a banal conversation on his phone. Either way, I’m forced to hear it. Either way, it may be irritating, but if the one is allowed, I don’t see how the other can be considered rude.

I think it is okay to talk on the phone in your car if you have the hands-free Bluetooth thingy. Certainly it might be ideal not to speak at all when driving, but of course we all speak to our passenger(s) when we have them. I see no difference between doing that and speaking to a little doohickey attached to your ear.

Cell phone ringing is a separate matter. That certainly can be annoying and intrusive, especially if you’ve chosen for your ringtone something that only you could possibly think is cute. However, I think, first of all, that it is simply a fact of life we all just need to get used to, just as we got used to the noise of automobiles and airplanes and Musak in elevators and the myriad other sounds of modern life. Secondly, every cell phone has a vibrate option. Use it whenever possible.

The vibrate option even makes leaving your cell phone on at a concert or other public performance okay -- if you’re awaiting a kidney transplant and don’t answer it until you’ve hied yourself to the lobby.

Some of the Ten Commandment-type lists on the internet include not trying to impress people with your cell phone. This is an outdated rule. If you still think anyone is impressed by your cell phone -- wow! Congrats on coming out of that ten-year coma, dude!

While I do not go into withdrawal when my cell phone is charging or otherwise temporarily unavailable for use, I do believe they’re one of the best inventions of my time. I love the security and convenience of knowing I have a phone right at hand wherever I am, and I also just think it’s, well, way cool. It’s something I couldn’t really have imagined as a kid. Sure, the people on Star Trek had “communicators”, but they were from the 23rd century or something. It wasn’t something I ever thought about happening in my lifetime. I would have been less surprised by flying cars or jetpacks. (Where are those, anyway? Is anybody working on this?) And even Captain Kirk didn’t have a Bluetooth communicator that he could just stick behind his manly ear. When the crew of the Enterprise used their communicators, they always stopped and stood in one place as if they were at a payphone. It was as if the writers’ imaginations didn’t extend to the concept that if the communicator was mobile, the person could be, too.

Lastly, Grammar doesn’t even care if people use good grammar while talking on their cell phone. She doesn’t care about that at all. Grammar has a very fine understanding of the difference between formal speech and the vernacular and will fight to the death for an individual’s right to speak in the vernacular on their cell phone. (Well, maybe not to the death. Or even fight in any sort of physical way. Or even make a scene, really. But as I was hastening away from any sort of controversial situation, in my head I’d be thinking about your rights.)

So I’m clearly pretty liberal in my ideas about cell phone etiquette. (RH is a little crotchetier, and in fact refuses to get one of his own, although it doesn’t seem to stop him from borrowing mine every time he goes out.)


No comments: