Theoden Janes

Put down your phone and read this column

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 77 percent of adults think it is “generally OK” for people to use their cellphones while walking down the street.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, 77 percent of adults think it is “generally OK” for people to use their cellphones while walking down the street. tlong@newsobserver.com

I see at least 15 shades of gray when it comes to the appropriateness of cellphone use in public places, but I do draw certain lines.

Here’s one: Hold your bladder, or hold your call. Recently, I observed a colleague talking on their phone while entering the restroom; I could hear the conversation continuing, I could hear the toilet flush; then the person walked back out, still chattering away as I tried to stifle my dry-heaving.

Here’s another: Don’t ever use your phone at a funeral – especially not to take selfies – or the next one could be yours.

Neither of these behaviors are covered in the Pew Research Center’s new report about mobile phone etiquette because, well, it probably was inconceivable that anyone might demonstrate them.

But if you scan the results, which are based on a survey of 3,217 adults, you’ll learn that 4 percent of people think it’s OK to use a phone at church; 5 percent think it’s OK to use one at the movies; 12 percent think it’s OK at a family dinner; and 16 percent think it’s OK while reading this column.

(That last one was a joke, but please do get off your phone.)

You’ll also learn that:

▪ Thirty-two percent of people occasionally use their cellphones in public “for no particular reason, just for something to do,” and 18 percent do so frequently.

▪ Sixteen percent of people occasionally use their cellphones in public to avoid interacting with the people around them, and 6 percent do so frequently.

▪ Twenty-one percent of people who are reading this column are reading it on their cellphones while waiting in line at Starbucks.

(Kidding, again. Or, am I?)

Ultimately, there aren’t really a ton of surprises in the Pew report. In short, it says lots of people use their phones in public in ways that induce varying degrees of irritability in those around them.

So what if we just took everyone’s phones away? Don’t laugh. It could happen to you. It happens, on occasion, when I attend screenings of not-yet-released movies: A security guard takes phones at the entrance, places them into numbered bags, and gives guests matching-numbered slips of paper. Sometimes, for kicks, I’ll stand there and watch the faces of adults as they crinkle like toddlers’ giving up their blankies.

Three years ago, when the Democratic National Convention was in Charlotte, Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” taped a series of episodes live from inside ImaginOn.

“Daily Show” staff had alerted the audience that if anyone took out a cellphone after entering the room, it would be confiscated posthaste.

At first, it didn’t go well. People shifted uncomfortably in their seats, palms palpitating, hearts hiccupping, stomachs stewing. A few college kids held onto their armrests as if suddenly the room was going to turn into one of those 3-D amusement park rides.

But then something unusual happened. Over the next hour, as everyone waited for Stewart, people actually started talking to each other, actually started listening to each other, actually made eye contact, and – actually – made it through the whole text-message-less, e-mail-less, Facebook-less ordeal just fine.

The point I’m trying to get across is this:

Shoot, hang on, I’ve gotta take this call real quick...

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes

  Comments