Mobile Computing: High-Tech Etiquette, Part 2
In my last newsletter I featured reader e-mail on the topic of reclining airplane seats. The question that was discussed, in essence, is this: Is it rude to ask the person in front of you to move their seat up a bit, if that makes it possible or more comfortable for you to work on your laptop?
This time, I present reader e-mail on the larger topic of using portable electronics in public. Some of the stories you'll read describe astonishing examples of rudeness--but what's most disturbing to me is that these sort of things happen all the time. Read on for their stories and my two cents.
The Kids Are Not Alright
While flying from Oregon to New York this summer, Joe Bruno of Wilton, Connecticut, was seated behind a family with four children. During the flight, two of the kids watched movies on DVD players--without earphones.
The father repeatedly chastised his offspring for having the volume all the way up. "I couldn't decide which was worse, his pleading with the brats or the awful sound of two movies at once," Joe writes.
When deplaning, Joe "brought this situation up to the captain, who told me that I should have said something to the parents. It seemed to us that the crew should have dealt with this situation and that electronics with open speakers should simply not be permitted in such circumstances."
My Two Cents: I agree there should be a ban on watching DVDs or listening to music on public conveyances without headphones. And ideally, the flight crew should have said something to the parents. However, the crew already has a lot of things to deal with, and asking a couple of kids to use headphones would probably not rank high on the to-do list.
So what does an annoyed traveler do? Asking the parents nicely to have the kids use headphones or to turn the volume down may not work and could even ignite an argument. Asking to be reseated is also a toss-up, as you may end up next to someone who is even more obnoxious. And on packed flights, moving isn't an option. The best solution, in my opinion, is to always travel with your own DVD movie or portable music player, complete with noise-canceling headphones.
Hold on a Sec, Doctor
"I am a physician, and several times I have been interrupted in the middle of a patient visit by a patient's ringing cell phone," writes James Borin of Baltimore. "Usually they just apologize and turn it off. But on several occasions, the patient has answered the phone and engaged in a short conversation. You'd think finding out if they have cancer or not is more important than discussing what to make for dinner that night."
My Two Cents: This is a great example of cell phone abuse. So what should a doctor--or anyone, for that matter--do when an obviously important professional consultation is interrupted by an obviously unimportant phone call? You could simply stare at the talker, which, one would hope, would make them uncomfortable enough to end the call ASAP. Or you could leave the room and attend to a phone call or other matter, though that might not be practical for appointment-driven professionals like doctors.
Sending a Message
"A committee chairwoman asked a man in a meeting a question," writes Linda Key, of Victoria, Texas. "As he was trying to answer her, she answered her cell phone and proceeded with the call for about a minute and a half. Looking embarrassed, the man answering the question tried to direct the remainder of his explanation to the rest of us in the meeting. Then we all just sat while the chairwoman finished her phone conversation. She then proceeded to give her teenage daughter (who came to the meeting with her and was sitting in a back corner) a message that the call was for her and who she needed to call back later."
My Two Cents: Given the situation, it sounds to me like the others in the meeting reacted appropriately. There's not much else one could do but sit and wait until the chairwoman finished her phone call. I'd just hope that someone, after the meeting, would give the chairwoman a message too--not to take nonurgent phone calls during a meeting.
So Flush Already!
"How about those who insist on chatting away on their cell phones inside public restrooms?" asks Gigi of Lake Ridge, Virginia. "I recently waited to use the one working ladies' room stall inside a bookstore while some woman sat inside it chatting away happily on her phone. I walked out of the restroom, then walked in again a couple of times, hoping she'd get the hint that at least one person was waiting for her to finish. But she continued to chat away, ignoring the obvious opening and closing of the bathroom door.
"I can only suppose that she was trying to spare the person on the other end of the line any 'bathroom noises,' which would explain why it took her nearly 20 minutes to flush and emerge," Gigi writes. "Mind you, I was four months pregnant at the time and in no mood to deal with something like this. But even now I still think it is just about the rudest thing I have ever seen."
My Two Cents: It's rarely pleasant to "flush" a Chatty Kathy out of the only available restroom stall, even after an unreasonable amount of time has passed. Probably the best option is to ask an employee of the store (or office) to intervene on your behalf. I found myself in the same situation myself not long ago, while waiting to use the one restroom in a cafe. After waiting nearly 10 minutes, I knocked on the door but got only a surly response. So I asked an employee to take action. He banged on the door, told the person inside he had a key, and that if the occupant did not come out within one minute, he was coming in.
A few seconds later, we heard a flush. Within about 15 seconds, the door opened. The man emerged from the restroom, still talking on his cell phone.
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