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Silencing Cell Phones In Public Places To Do Homework

Ring, ring… These days, it's almost impossible to catch a movie or grab a bite to eat at a restaurant without having the experience interrupted by the sound of a cell phone ringing.

"Sometimes I go into a restaurant and I want to enjoy a meal or coffee and quietly read, and someone begins talking really loud on their cell phone. It's obnoxious," said Oakland, Calif., resident Charles Crowder.

With more than 100 million cell phones worldwide and growing, the problem is likely to get worse. In the United States alone, it's estimated that in five years 84 percent of U.S. citizens will have a mobile phone.

But a backlash against the cellular nuisance has already begun. In restaurants across the United States, signs asking diners to turn off their phones are becoming increasingly common. In Maine's Baxter State Park, mobile phones are illegal except for emergencies. The resistance has even reached the White House: President Bush has reportedly banned cell phones from staff meetings.

In fact, several governments across the world are now considering imposing etiquette on mobile gabbers in public spaces by legalizing technology that blocks cellular signals.

Quit Your Yapping

Cell phone jammers have been around since 1998. The devices, which cost around $1,000, can block signals in a room about the size of a movie theater. The jammer sends out a low-power, encoded radio signal or modulated radio wave.

Jammers work in one of two ways. Some devices set their signal to the same frequency as pagers and mobile phones, cutting off communication between handsets and base stations. Others work as electronic filters that fool mobile phones into thinking there are no frequencies available to make or receive calls. Manufacturers of the devices say the jamming only affects the designated area (most radii are a couple dozen to several hundred feet) and works only on cellular transmissions.

Sounds like the perfect solution to pesky phones, right? The problem is, except for Israel and Japan, cell phone jammers remain illegal in most developed countries, including the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Switzerland, and Australia.

The tide, however, may be changing. This past spring, both Hong Kong and Canada announced they would consider legalizing jammers in an effort to curb bad phone behavior in public. Around the same time, the leaders of India's parliament revealed they had already installed the devices to avoid interruptions during sessions.

Coming to a Theater Near You?

Bringing jamming devices to the United States might prove trickier. The 1934 Telecommunications Act makes it illegal to inhibit the use of public airwaves, which is exactly what jammers do. In 2000, the Federal Communications Commission affirmed this ban on jammers. Only an act of Congress could change that.

But as public resentment of chirping disturbances continues to grow, such a major change in the legal landscape becomes less far-fetched. Last year, Letstalk.com found that 57 percent of Americans favor barring cell phones from restaurants, theaters, and other public places.

The U.S. cellular industry, however, is likely to continue to fight jammers tooth and nail.

"The technology is illegal in the U.S., and it's our position that it should be," said Travis Larson, spokesman for the Cellular Telephone Industry Association (CTIA), based in Washington.

According to Larson, jammers put lives at risk by hindering a hospital's ability to page doctors at dinner or blocking emergency calls, for example. Each day, he notes, more than 118,000 emergency calls are made from cell phones.

Rather than relying on new technology, a better solution to the cell phone nuisance may lie in promoting old-fashioned manners, Larson said. CTIA and many of its member companies, including mobile phone manufacturer Nokia and service provider US Cellular, are pouring money into public education campaigns to encourage cell phone users to be more considerate.

"The answer is etiquette, education, making sure people are using their cell phones in ways that don't invade other people's space," Larson said.

Beyond the mumbo jumbo text of cellphone manuals and the network plan fine print, lies an unspoken rule book of cellphone etiquette.

The guidelines to what is acceptable behavior and what is not tend to change when a person is at the work place, at school, or in a social setting.

But what exactly are those rules of cellphone etiquette?

Looking to the standard of all things proper — The Emily Post Institute — the site has a few recommendations of what to practice and what to most definitely avoid.

Emily Post prefaces its instructions of appropriate manners for cellphone use by saying, “Learn to use your phone’s features like silent ring, vibrate and voice mail to handle the times when your phone would be bothering others if it rang and you answered it.”

Silencing a phone can make the difference between a pleasant outing at the movies, restaurant, or place of worship and an embarrassing moment that results in heads turning to look back while the person in question scrambles to turn off his or her phone. Disrupting an entire group from its activity and drawing attention to one’s blaring cellphone is a habit best to avoid.

Not only is a silent phone usually a safe solution, but so is a speaking softly, according to Emily Post.

Similar rules that should be implemented on a regular basis include not using the speaker phone option in busy public places, watching language and eliminating cursing, and to avoid divulging confidential or personal information. The cashier at the grocery store, the child at the park, and the people on the bus who are nearby will be thankful to not have to be subjected to hearing all of those poor cellphone habits listed above.

Those rules can be implemented for safety, as well. Some practical advice that is also proper etiquette would be to never talk or text while driving and to understand that private information in a text is not necessarily always going to be private, since there are ways for the recipient to forward that information on to others. (For example, screenshots are very common with today’s phone savvy generation).

Text Talk

Whether or not a person knows all the latest emojis and acronyms, the realm of text messaging — or “texting” as it is commonly referred to — comes with its own set of rules and regulations.

Good habits to introduce when texting are keeping messages brief, double checking the message has been selected to the right person before hitting send, and acknowledging that a message was received. Even a simple “Thanks” or “Okay” at the end of a conversation will go a long way for good communication.

Emily Post’s Texting Guidelines make it clear when it states, “Just as you shouldn’t answer your phone during a conversation, you shouldn’t text when you’re engaged with someone else. If you are with someone who won’t stop texting during your conversation, feel free to excuse yourself until they have concluded their messaging.”

Sometimes the worst actions are not the noise of the phone ringing or the sign of disinterest person texting, but the distraction of an illuminated screen in a dark environment. That alone can annoy neighboring people at a movie or concert setting, so it is wise to avoid checking a phone in those typically dark public environments.

Age does not give immunity to certain etiquette rules. No matter the person’s age, it is frowned upon to be on the phone for socializing at school or work.

Emily Post advises, “Don’t text during class or a meeting at your job.”

Both places require people’s full attention, so unless the use of cellphones are being utilized for educational purposes or work-related conversations, it is best to kick the habit of checking social media, texting friends, and taking selfies at school or work.

Newtown schools’ recent electronic device policies in place may sway students to make better decisions.
Last year’s Newtown Middle School student/parent handbook policy stated that students are not allowed to use cellphones in school and should keep them in their lockers during school hours.

In higher levels of education, like Newtown High School, the 2016-2017 Student Handbook details a set list of places where students can use electronic devices (i.e., the cafeteria/cafetorium, hallway, senior courtyard, patio areas, and classrooms at the discretion of the teacher), as well as a list of places where cellphones are prohibited (i.e., office areas like the Career Centers, hallways during class time, and during fire drills). Violate those rules and be penalized with a first offense warning, a second offense confiscation, and a third offense duel confiscation and administrative detention.

With the Board of Education policy subcommittee currently reevaluating cellphone rules for the future, a Newtown students best bet is to ask a teacher or administrator for the classroom or school policy.

Newtown Youth Discuss Cellphone Habits

The C.H. Booth Library’s Young Adult Council, which is a group of conscientious individuals ranging from 11 to 15 years old, discussed the topic of cellphones at a recent meeting and drew some conclusions for their age group.

While not all members of the council owned a cellphone, many in the group have had a handful of years of experience navigating owning a cellphone in today’s world.

This 15-member segment of Newtown’s youth population on average received a phone sometime between the ages of 10 and 12 years old. Most expressed that many of their friends their age have cellphones already, as well.

When asked if there was social pressure to have a cellphone, Young Adult Council member Juliana Miraldi said, “Yes, definitely I think so. When you don’t have one and people around you are always using them so you sort of feel a bit left out.”

Still, many do agree that there are certain rules to cellphone use that ring true for their age group.
They find it disrespectful if someone is on their phone during a conversation, with the exception of using the phone to add to the discussion. Generally, the students recommend leaving a phone face down when people are talking, so as to be less distracted.

An appropriate use of cellphones that Grace Miller voiced was the ability to share the device during an emergency or unexpected event. Since she does not have a cellphone, she appreciated when a friend let her borrow a phone so Grace could call her parents to let them know the fire alarm was pulled at her school causing her bus to run half an hour late. Students that share their phones in these situations are seen as demonstrating good cellphone etiquette.

According to the Young Adult Council, when using cellphones at home, each household tends to have its own rules in place.

Emily Post’s Families and Mobile Manners Survey found that “94 percent of parents believe it’s important to establish rules in the home about proper use of mobile devices.”

A place that many families agree is an off limits zone for cellphone use is at the dinner table. Mealtime is meant for in person interaction and cellphones are not permitted.

Emily Post’s advice column explained, “Even if your phone is in your lap, the people with you all know what you’re doing when you’re eyes are focused on your lap. Just because it’s a quiet activity (unlike a phone call), you’re not fooling anyone. And then everyone’s attention is on the fact that your attention is on your phone, not on them.”

To limit excessive cellphone use at home, some policies in place include setting a specific time, like 8 or 9 pm, when cellphones should be shut off for the night, or to designate a one-hour period when cellphones can be used.

To ensure homework is a priority, some of the Young Adult Council members mentioned that they follow a no-cellphone-till-after-homework-is-finished rule.

Some parents even go a step further and set up restrictive Wi-Fi where data will shut off at a certain time. That way it eliminates the temptation of use and there is a concrete rule in place.

Whether intending to use a cellphone for schoolwork or to communicate with parents or to stay social with friends, having a phone is seen as a helpful feature when following good cellphone etiquette.

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