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Cell phones can be very handy, but should there be etiquette?

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Posted: Sunday, February 1, 2004 10:00 pm

Dora Helms, of Galt, sits in a noisy Starbucks quietly reading an article in Sacramento Magazine when a male patron's cell phone loudly rings nearby.

"Hello?!" He answers in a voice loud enough to overcome the whir of a blenders pulverizing ice into iced coffees. It's the second time he's answered his phone in a matter of minutes. He stands in the coffee shop and begins to pace about, his voice level getting louder by the moment.

"I wish he'd either talk quietly or step outside," says Helms. "I really don't need to hear his entire conversation.

Helms, a self-described "semi-regular" patron of the Lodi Starbucks asked that her photo be omitted from the story.

"I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or have the guy I'm talking about read your article and recognize me as the person who complained about his cell phone manners. He's pretty regular here, too," Helms said. "And he usually does go outside when his call gets kind of heated or emotional. I have to give him credit for that."

Ironically, as she begins to turn her attention back to her magazine, Helms' own cell phone begins to ring inside of her purse. With an embarrassed expression, she hurriedly fumbles through a variety of purse sections to retrieve the ringing contraption. Helms answers the phone in a tone reminiscent of a spy being watched by the CIA.

"Yeah … No … I'm having coffee and a scone … Can I call you back? OK … Bye."

While Helms balks at others' cell phone manners, she claims that hers are truly better than many who own the portable devices.

"At least I try to speak quietly or make sure it is off unless I absolutely need to be accessible. Even so, you'll never hear my cell phone ring during a play or in a movie theater!" say Helms.

Trisha Patterson, of Valley Springs, agreed wholeheartedly. While walking down Lodi's Hutchins Street talking on her phone, Patterson took time to stop and rip into those without cell phone manners.

"You talk about something that makes me mad! I was at a movie recently when this man's cell phone rings right in the middle of 'The Last Samurai.' Does he turn it off? No! He answers in a normal voice-level and starts telling his friend - so everybody has to hear - how he's at the movies!"

Admitting that he uses his cell phone "constantly," Kevin Childs of Stockton steps outside of the Lodi Starbucks to continue his conversation in a quieter area. (J. Paul Bruton/News-Sentinel)

With cell phones here to stay - and sales outlets gaining new hips on which to reside and purses and backpacks in which to hide daily - a question keeps surfacing for many cell phone owners and non-owners alike: Can we educate the masses to operate the abundant gadgets with a generally acceptable cell phone etiquette?

The mobile-phone arrived as shoe-box-sized contraptions being toted along to cars and meetings in the late '80s and early '90s. From there, the cell phone craze of talking to whomever, whenever and where-ever has only raced forward. Now, about the size of a (very thick) credit card, the phones are everywhere.

"When it comes to these phones, I would love to see classes starting in 4th grade that teach cell-phone manners," Patterson said. "I mean it. Nowadays even kids are all over these things."

Kevin Childs stands outside of Starbucks talking away on a cell phone that is barely visible in his large hand. Someone being considerate of others by stepping outside?

"No, I just couldn't hear with all the noise going on in there," Childs said.

Childs says that while he can remember what it was like to not have cell phones, he admitted that the tiny communicating device is now a regular part of his life.

"I don't want to use the word 'addicted' to it, but I definitely am a regular user. I pick it up and take it with me everywhere, just like reaching for my wallet," he said. "I gotta probably admit that I over-use it."

In spite of the fact that his mini-phone is omni-present, Childs said that people should recognize that there is a time and a place for it to be used, as well as a time and place to shut the thing off. Childs said that he is sure to shut his phone off at places like the movies and any other place that people would certainly consider a ringing phone an unwanted interruption.

Overhearing Childs' comment pertaining to proper usage causes Helms to shake her head and scoff. She says that yet another problem that she sees with the cell phone users is that they can so easily ruin many intimate moments with a loved-one.

"I'm sitting in The Old Spaghetti Factory in Stockton having dinner with my husband, when of course, again, his cell phone rings. Suddenly, here I am having dinner by myself as he jabbers away with a client. I just gave him the dirtiest look I could muster and said, 'Once again, it's just the three of us … '" she said. " … But that's all right, honey, you can just sleep with that phone tonight. It worked. He said, 'I really gotta go, now!'"

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