Cell Phone Rudeness

by Matthew Arnold Stern

This speech is from the advanced Toastmasters manual, Humorously Speaking. It was first delivered in May 2000. This speech was reprinted in a textbook in August 2004 (more info). For more cell phone rudeness, visit my blog.

Cell phones: For many, an indispensable communications tool. For others, just another way to be rude. I’m sure that many of you have experienced cell phone rudeness. Perhaps some of you are guilty of cell phone rudeness. I’ve found that there are three main ways to be rude with cell phones.

We all know what number one is: It’s using your cell phone when driving! When I got my cell phone, I got not just one, but two full-color brochures about why you should not use your cell phone while driving. People still do it. You see those fools on the road with their cell phone in one hand and their Starbucks cappuccino in the other. How are they steering the car!? (Yes, I know. Not very well.)

But, this isn’t the only way people are rude with cell phones. There are those who believe that when they press the little button to take or place a call, they are immediately enveloped with an Invisible Cone of Privacy. They believe that this enables them to stand in the middle of any public place and talk about any subject they want — no matter how personal, or how embarrassing — and no one else can hear them.

I saw this the other day at the post office. I was in the lobby with about twenty other people waiting to mail a package, and this guy was chatting on his cell phone, “Hey Martha. I’m at the post office right now…” Like, duh. This guy probably spent $269 for his Motorola flip-phone, and then probably got one of those top-of-the-line $90 a month one-rate plans, just to tell Martha that he’s at the post office. For a mere 33-cent stamp, he could mail Martha a letter and prove he was at the post office!

What made things worse is that he apparently believed that the louder he spoke, the more effective his Invisible Cone of Privacy became. So, he spoke at the top of his lungs, “I went to my proctologist appointment this morning. Do you wanna hear all about it?” And, all of us in that lobby shouted, “NO!” I guess he then realized that his Invisible Cone of Privacy wasn’t working very well at that time.

Third, we all know that it’s rude to interrupt a meeting by taking a cell-phone call during a meeting. What’s worse is when people bring their cell phones to meetings in hopes of being interrupted. You can tell who these people are: When they sit down, they take their cell phone out of its holster and put it on the table directly in front of them. They then take out their Palm VII and put it on the table right next to their phone. You know that they are just waiting for something to beep at them. They are begging, hoping, pleading for something to beep at them. It’s their not-so-subtle way of saying, “There are things I’d rather do than be at this meeting with you.”

In fact, I recently changed jobs partially because of a meeting with a person like that. At a previous employer, I had a meeting with the vice president du jour to find out what he planned to do with our documentation department. This was a meeting I had tried to set up for weeks. When I finally came into his office, he had his cell phone on the desk in front of him, right directly in the line of sight between him and me. He said to me, “Matt, I want to express to you how important I feel you are to this organization. I want to show you how important I think documentation is to our products.”

Of course, at this point, his cell phone rang. When people interrupts a meeting to take a cell-phone call, they always say the same thing: “Excuse me, but I must take this.” He went on, “Hello?…That’s okay. You’re not interrupting me…I’m in a meeting, but it’s not anything important.” As it turned out, documentation wasn’t really that important to him.

So, if you are a cell-phone user, please practice courtesy when using your cell phone. Don’t use your cell phone while driving. Don’t use your cell phone to show everyone you have a cell phone. And one other thing…oh, my cell phone is ringing. Excuse me, but I must take this.


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