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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Silence of the Ages

David Mehegan wrote in “Behind Closed Doors,” his June 15th Boston Globe article about the dwindling respect for personal privacy demonstrated via cell phones usage. His particular example was a woman who sat near him on a bus, conducting a conversation with her doctor’s office pertaining to a missing urine sample. Eew. Although cell phone etiquette as a topic is unfortunately old news, he garnered my sympathies. I even thought about devoting some Middle Passages space to the topic, except that he said it all; in my mind there was nothing to add.

Until today.

We’ve all had experiences with rude cell phone users who for some reason believe that they exist in a sound-proof bubble, say, surrounded by one inch thick Plexiglas walls the size of a phone booth. It’s as if, once they pull out their cell phone, a stockade seals around them allowing them to conduct their conversation in a vacuum.

My worst experience occurred on a deck outside my old company which is set up in the good weather months with mesh umbrellas and white plastic lunch tables. Late to eat that day, I enjoyed the relative peace of the empty area until a woman sat down two tables away from me, dialed her cell, and proceeded to engage in a high volume argument with what I assume was a significant other. By the time she started crying; I threw the remaining half of my sandwich down and retreated inside to the cafeteria with little sympathy. It amazed me that in addition to her “phone booth,” I had become invisible too.

I recalled that scene today as a gentleman, though I use that term as loosely as I know how, seated two tables behind me at the library decided to conduct business on his cell. Each time it rang (yes, I said rang, not vibrated), he answered in normal cell phone tone (that is to say, loudly) and finally my passive aggressive tendencies took over. Twisting in my chair, I glared at him directly, and sighed a few times, to no avail. He also failed to notice when I rolled my eyes as he announced to his caller: “It’s too hard to hear you with all that noise in the background, could you please call me back?” This is when living in a small town is a challenge. Direct confrontation seemed out of the question. I want to come back to the library next Thursday too.

Credit where credit is due. As he discussed the intricate landscaping design scheduled for his house, I heard the woman sitting behind me whisper into her phone, “Hold on, I’m in the library, let me step outside.”

To some degree, I admit defeat. Cell phones are ever-present, mine is in my pocket as we speak. All I can say is thank goodness that while I sat seething amid the landscape discussion, the communication from my daughter pertaining to a friend-crisis during school lunch arrived via a soundless text.

Next we'll discuss the topic of cell phone usage in school.

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