Don't Shoot! But Our Cell Usage Is Out of Control

I was standing behind a woman on line at Kroger this weekend who, while checking out, was chatting away on the phone.

"Do you want to donate a dollar to the Food Bank?" the pimply teenage cashier asked her.

She ignored the clerk due to her interest in whoever she was chatting with, who just so happened to overpay for a seriously bad day at the spa (as I was unfortunately forced to overhear). This caused a repeat of the question, to which the woman finally shook her head without missing a beat about the necessity of a good foot scrub.

It was ridiculous. It happens all of the time.

Cell phone use is undeniably dominant in our society and it has turned a lot of us into a-holes. We talk or text while walking, driving, dining out, supervising our children, walking our dogs, shopping and sitting on the toilet in public restrooms; we even use our cell phones while running the treadmill at the gym. You're running! It would seem that given the quantity of people using cell phones at all times of the day, we would all be used to it by now, but obviously we are not.

I am making a reference to the recent incident of the shooting in a Florida movie theater that took place a week or so ago. The shooter was annoyed by a texter in the row in front of him and it turned into an altercation, which, in turn, became a fatality. What this says about our right to carry arms is one thing, but what does it say about our right to be discourteous? Obviously it is not okay to pull a weapon on a loud cell-phone talker or incessant texter, but where do we draw the line?

Last month, the FCC announced potential plans to allow airplane passengers to use their phones in flight. I guess that urban myth about cells jamming up the flight deck was just a scare tactic. The response to this proposal has been rather mixed; some people despise being incommunicado in flight, while others fear that the move will cause cell phone rage, perhaps similar to the incident that just happened in the movie theater.

As an expat from New York who spent many hours on commuter trains, I have to say that being stuck next to a chatty Cathy for an hour-plus ride is excruciating. I am also a frequent long-distance bus rider, and getting wedged next to someone on the phone in a cramped seat is even worse. You hear everything that person is saying, and who wants to listen in on someone else's phone call? I stand fully against making phone calls on planes unless there is some sort of emergency, and I fear that if the FCC's plan goes through, we might see some more phone rage -- luckily, on planes there is not the potential for guns.

But let's think about why we feel the need to be on the phone at all times, even when others are trying to communicate with us. There have been numerous studies about our cell phone addictions, our need to be plugged in at all times, and how we feel that if we're not engaged, then we are missing out on something important. But eating out with your family should be important. Have you ever been a waitress trying to get an order out of someone staring down at his or her phone? What is that? We have to have competitions now of who can keep their hands away from their phone the longest when we are out with friends? Who do we need to call so badly when we are out with people we want to be with? Am I the only one who thinks the world needs a celltervention?

The shooting near Tampa is as tragic as it is a fascinating look at our current culture. As I understand it, the victim may have been worried about his toddler and so perhaps the texting was warranted and the shooter didn't just pull out his weapon because the guy was on his phone; the incident escalated verbally and with alleged popcorn throwing. But somewhere underneath what is a very disturbing news story, is what to do about our rampant cell phone usage.

Should the government step in and put restrictions on cell phones? Yeah, that would go over really well with everyone. Should our kids go through a D.A.R.E.-like program discouraging the use of cell phones in inappropriate settings with Reefer Madness-like videos of people getting shot in movie theaters? That doesn't seem very helpful either. Maybe PSAs about rude behavior? Should those of us pissed off standing on checkout lines at Kroger speak up on behalf of the teenage Kroger employee who would never say anything for fear of getting fired and probably because he or she does the same thing? Maybe.

When I was a little kid, my mom used to stand up and tell people to stop talking in a movie theater and there was nothing more embarrassing that I could imagine at the time, but now (God help me) I understand where she was coming from. Cell phone talking in a movie theater is even worse; what, are you explaining the movie to someone who is not even there?

A lot of the media has been focusing on the gun aspect of this story, rightfully so. But I think there are some larger implications of etiquette here that we need to keep in check. And it shouldn't be because we worry that someone has a gun and could shoot us in the face (although, yeah, kind of scary); we should worry about our new-found behavior because it's totally rude and it's only getting worse.

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