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Column: It's time to learn the commandments of cellphone use

Former editor of the Times newspapers and the Lake Oswego Review, Kelly is now chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.I’ve admitted in this space before that I don’t like phones. In fact, I’ve operated the past several years now with just one of those pay-as-you-go flip phones I picked up at Fred Meyer and just purchased enough minutes to get by.

Then I got one for the other person who lives at our house, who was really the only individual I wanted to call anyway (or be called by) — and that served our purpose for some time. Then she lost hers. So I gave her mine. Now I’m phoneless again, which is still quite all right by me.

Well, not so long ago, I got a new vehicle — the one I have to have paid off before I can retire, according to TOPWLAOH — and it has Bluetooth, hands-free capability for a smartphone, complete with one of those stubby little antennas on the roof. What really irritates me is, every time I poke a button inside the car to turn on the radio or the CD player, it reminds me that I have failed to make a proper Bluetooth connection, and that just makes me feel, well, ashamed.

I still don’t mind not having a phone. But I do feel I’m not living up to my responsibility as a citizen of our web-obsessed society. And I have no doubt that if I did have a smartphone, I’d be lurching around looking just as dorky as everybody else, my chin on my chest and my eyes on a little screen.

As much as I hate phones, I don’t feel that way about computers — and devices in general. You don’t have to talk on these new “phones.” You can let your fingers do the talking — which is what I’ve been doing for years. You see, I’m a lot smarter when my fingers do the talking. When I leave it up to my mouth, I just get in trouble.

Bearing in mind, then, that a lot of you out there no longer use your phones for talking (which is good), I would like to share this information I ran across called “the 10 commandments of cellphone use.” I actually discovered it last summer, during July, which was labeled then, at least, as National Cellphone Courtesy Month by something called CableOrganizer.com, “an industry-leading eTailer of cellphone, electrical, telecom/datacom, home theater, cable and wire management products.” (Let’s pause here to catch our breath, shall we?)

I figured because this year’s National Cellphone Courtesy Month is just around the corner, I ought to offer the 10 commandments here without any editorial comment of my own. So here they are:

“1. Respect those you’re with. At some point or another, we’ve all been out with someone who has checked out of the one-on-one live conversation for a number of minutes to casually shoot the breeze with someone else via cellphone. If you make social plans with someone, they are the first priority and deserve your undivided time and attention.

“2. Let voicemail handle non-urgent calls when appropriate. Voicemail exists for a reason; it allows you to take note of non-emergency incoming calls without disrupting the environment you are currently in. If you’re at a teacher/parent conference, a meal with your family, a social function immersed in conversations, and other such situations, rest assured your voicemail will be there when a more suitable time to return the call presents itself.

“3. Set a good example to the younger generation. It’s no surprise that kids learn by example, so keep that in mind when you’re modeling cellphone behavior in front of the younger set — whether your kids or others. You teach them to say “please” and “thank you,” among other social graces, so why stop there? Mind your cellphone P’s and Q’s in front of children and teens alike, and you’ll give them a better shot at becoming model, tech-savvy citizens themselves.

“4. Wait to text, and save a life (yours). When you drive and text at the same time, whether reading or composing, you’re not only taking your hands off the wheel, but your eyes off the road as well. No text message is worth the risk of injuring, or killing, yourself or others. Wait until you are safely parked to send and return text messages.

“5. Stash your cell when dining out. When people spend money on a dinner out, the last thing they want is to become a captive audience to a third party cellphone conversation. If you’re eating in public, especially in the company of others, stash the cellphone (and turn off the ringer) until the meal is over — everyone, including you, will enjoy themselves much more.

“6. Remember when ‘private time’ is in order. It’s easy to identify telltale restroom sounds like echoes, running water and flushing in the background, so if you’re taking a time out to answer nature’s call, don’t try to fool anyone — end calls before you walk into the restroom, and don’t answer or dial again until you’ve washed and exited.

“7. Keep arguments under wraps. Not every cellphone conversation may be a happy one, but that doesn’t mean you have license to a public meltdown. It’s easy to get wrapped up in an argument, but remember that others can’t see or hear the hothead on the other end of the line; all they are aware of is a one-sided screaming match a few feet away. Don’t let it be you.

“8. Mind your manners. Stories and language that might be entertaining to your closest associates may very well come off as inappropriate or just plain TMI to innocent bystanders, so it’s smart to live by the following rule: If you wouldn’t walk through a busy public place with a particular word or comment printed on your T-shirt, don’t use it in cellphone conversations when within earshot of strangers.

“9. Don’t ignore universal quiet zones. Whether you’re in a theater, house of worship, conference room or other standard locale requiring cellphone silence, it’s imperative to heed the mandate to shut off cellphones completely. Not only so they don’t make a notable sound, but also so that intrusive screen light does not distract, both of which are highly disrespectful to those around you.

“10. Don’t make service personnel wait on you. There’s a growing frustration among cashiers, restaurant waitstaff, counter workers and others in the service trade about customers who expect to be served immediately, yet can’t be bothered to interrupt their cellphone conversations or texting marathons to coherently place an order or pay for a purchase. Many service personnel strive to do their job well, and customers distracted by cellphones can undermine their own experience and create a bottleneck with others. Please — help them help you.”

I couldn’t have said it (any of it) better.

Former editor of the Times newspapers and the Lake Oswego Review, Kelly is now chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.




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