“Cell Phone Rudeness” is my most popular speech. It has received more hits than any other speech on my site. It has been published in books and recommended by others. Thanks to all of you who have enjoyed the speech over the years.
The speech’s continued popularity shows that cell phone rudeness is still an annoying problem. It’s a problem that has gotten worse as the technology has gotten better. Here are some other ways that people are still acting rude with cell phones…
Cell Phones in Public Bathrooms
Next to talking on a cell phone while driving (which I still see people do, even though you can now be ticketed for it), talking on a cell phone in a public bathroom is the rudest thing one can do. I’ve seen men at the urinal with one hand on the cell phone and the other hand, well, elsewhere, while saying, “Hi, Honey. I’ve just been thinking about you…” Doesn’t the person on the other end know where you are? Considering the echo and, well, other background noises in a typical bathroom, wouldn’t the person on the other end figure it out? “Where am I, honey? Well, I, um, stepped away from my desk for a moment…”
But the worst cell phone rudeness in a public bathroom comes from the tap-tap-tapping I hear from the stalls. Some people consider a bathroom stall the perfect retreat to catch up with email, Web surf, or finish a particularly difficult level of Angry Birds. Meanwhile, some poor guy in a state of dire gastro-intestinal distress quivers nervously by the door because the jerk hogging the stall didn’t nail the stupid pig with the helmet.
Why can’t people use the bathroom the way it is supposed to be used and leave?
“The Blue Light of Scum Baggery”
It used to be when someone was wandering around talking to himself, it meant that he was nuts (or in my case, developing dialogue for a story or practicing a speech). Now, if you see someone talking to himself, look for the “Blue Light of Scum Baggery.” It means he has a Bluetooth headset.
These headsets have become so small and inconspicuous, you don’t know that person is in a conversation until you see that annoying blue light. The other indication of a Bluetooth headset is how loud the person talks. Bluetooth headset users seem to believe their device activates the Invisible Cone of Privacy that I talked about in my speech. The louder one talks, the more effective this Invisible Cone of Privacy is supposed to be.
The other day, I was in line at my favorite bakery/cafe. The woman in front of me was involved in a particularly heated discussion about sales numbers and potential customers. (Good thing that the Invisible Cone of Privacy keeps all that corporate information confidential, right?) Meanwhile, the poor girl behind the register was waiting for the woman to decide whether to continue her conversation or order her food. (The poor folks behind her in line had to wait too.) When the woman became aware of the reality of being in a restaurant, she scowled at the cashier for breaking her reverie of being back in her office. She then intercut her business discussion with her order for a panini. The girl couldn’t understand the woman’s order because the woman was having two conversations at the same time. It seemed the people at the other end of the headset were confused too because she raised her voice at them at the same time as she raised her voice at the girl at the register.
When I was in college in the 1980s, I worked behind the register at a restaurant. If I saw a customer acting like that woman did, we’d call the police and tell them to bring sedatives and a straightjacket. Thanks to Bluetooth, we know that the woman isn’t crazy, just rude.
Arthur C. Clarke said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Not texting. It is indistinguishable from black sorcery. It is single-handedly responsible from destroying grammar, spelling, and whatever fragments we still have of civility.
You remember from my speech that a rude person would interrupt an important conversation to take a cell phone call by saying, “I’m sorry, but I must take this.” With texting, people don’t even apologize. They just pick up their cell phone and start texting while you’re in the middle of talking with them. You can try to be the polite one and ask, “Would you like me to wait until you’re finished?” The texter would reply, “Na-hah.” (Apparently, texting degrades verbal as well as written communication skills.) You may think the other person has given you permission to talk, but he just wants to be able to ignore you so he can focus on the much more interesting conversation on his cell phone screen.
If you have teenagers, this is the typical type of conversation you have. This is why I started texting so that I can communicate with my teens!
A Rude Future?
I’ve seen how new technology has given people new opportunities to be rude. As devices get smaller and more capable, they will give people more ways to tune out the people around them and shun the manners that make society function.
There is one new technology that offers hope: tablets. Tablets are big enough that people won’t sneak them into public bathrooms. When you see someone using a tablet, you can’t mistake them for doing something else. People can read books with a tablet, so at least they’re doing something worthwhile with it. And if someone is really rude, you can whack them over the head with it (although that would be rude and potentially expensive).
Still, it looks like we’re stuck with cell phone rudeness for a long time to come. At least, people can still read my speech and agree about how bad cell phone rudeness is.