Indoor Air Quality

It seems like everyone has a cell phone these days. While the trends lean towards more texting and other forms of non verbal communication, the fact that more and more of the population are armed with a cell phone means the number of calls being made per day is on the rise. In the last week I’ve personally experienced two cell phone faux pas. The first was a waiter bringing me my food while on his cell, the second was a man screaming into his phone at the top of his lungs in a coffee shop cursing at the person on the other end of the line about how he was “not going to Ikea.” I’m sure everyone has been in a room with someone who didn’t seem to realize what was appropriate in public while on a cell phone. This being said I discovered that rude cell users are such a huge problem July has been declared National Cell Phone Courtesy Month. Therefore, I’d like to investigate one of the newest aspects of Indoor “Air Wave” Quality, cell phone noise pollution.

Here’s a little insight into why this problem seems to be growing so quickly: There were approximately 340,000 wireless subscribers in the United States in 1985, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Associate (CTIA); by 1995, that number had increased to more than 33 million, and by 2003, more than 158 million people in the country had gone wireless. This means if you went out for a family dinner, chances are everyone from the grandparents to the junior high age grandchildren would have a mobile phone of some sort. We tend to view this as being more available and in touch, in the mix if you will. How is it then that the mobile telephone encourages us to connect individually but disconnect socially, ceding, in the process, much that was civil and civilized about the use of public space?

Interestingly enough, in the U.S., mild regional differences in the use of cell phones are evident. Reporting on a survey by Cingular wireless, CNN noted that cell phone users in the South “are more likely to silence their phones in church,” while Westerners “are most likely to turn a phone off in libraries, theaters, restaurants, and schools.” But nationwide, cell phones still frequently interrupt movie screenings, theater performances, and concerts. People are generally more turned off by people using their mobile phones in public than they are by people having a loud conversation in the same situation. Because cell phone talkers are not interacting with the world around them, they come to believe that the world around them isn’t really there and surely shouldn’t intrude. And when the cell phone user commandeers the space by talking, he or she sends a very clear message to others that they are powerless to insist on their own use of the space. It is a passive-aggressive but extremely effective tactic. Such encounters can sometimes escalate into rude intransigence or even violence. In the past few years alone, men and women have been stabbed, escorted off of airplanes by federal marshals, pepper-sprayed in movie theaters, ejected from concert halls, and deliberately rammed with cars as a result of their bad behavior on their cell phones. The Zagat restaurant guide reports that cell phone rudeness is now the number one complaint of diners, and USA Today notes that “fifty-nine percent of people would rather visit the dentist than sit next to someone using a cell phone.”

The worst part is that as much as we all hate the person gabbing away at inopportune times we can also find ourselves being that person. Much like the talk radio caller who is complaining about people driving and talking on the phone while they are in fact calling from their car while on their phone, most of us believe that the rules can be bent ‘just this one time’ especially if it is important. While the occasional emergency will require a person to disrupt social calm, please let us all remember our manners. While cell phone etiquette hasn’t been as firmly set as say dinner etiquette a few simple rules can be followed to insure clean IAQ for yourself and everyone around you.

Jacqueline Whitmore an etiquette expert has some simple tips such as, learn to use the vibrator setting on your phone and be aware of your surroundings as to avoid discussing private or confidential information in public. If we can all remember these simple steps as well as realizing that sometimes it is just better to let a call go to voicemail we should be able to make this July the most courteous and polite month in cell phone history.

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