Cell Phone Rudeness

What should we do about cell phone rudeness?

In our musical profession, we are coming across it more and more — cell phone rudeness. Whether it’s phones ringing when they’re supposed to be off or people looking at their cell phones during meetings or class, it seems to be increasing to a distressing level.

This story of a theater critic being ejected from a theater is getting a good deal of buzz (via Roger Kimball).  The critic, Kevin Williamson, had been seated next to a particularly rude audience member.  Williamson writes:

The lady seated to my immediate right (very close quarters on bench seating) was fairly insistent about using her phone. I asked her to turn it off. She answered: “So don’t look.” I asked her whether I had missed something during the very pointed announcements to please turn off your phones, perhaps a special exemption granted for her. She suggested that I should mind my own business.

Williamson later snatched the phone out of the woman’s hand and threw it across the room, earning him an early exit from the theater performance.

Some see Williamson as the hero in this encounter, which reminds me of last year’s performance by the NY Phil where Alan Gilbert stopped the performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony to address an odious interruption from someone in the front row.

We all understand that mistakes happen and that cell phones may have even betrayed us at some point.  As a professor, I know that people are going to look at their phones from time to time during class lectures and faculty meetings, but I am referring to behavior that shows disregard for human decency.  Here are the most egregious.

1) Leaving the cell phone on silent instead of turning it off.  I don’t get why people do this at performances.  Cell phones can’t make noise if they’re turned off.  You’re only flirting with disaster by accidentally flipping that silent button.  You can’t wait the extra 30 seconds for your phone to boot up?  Are you waiting for a call from your son who’s getting out of open heart surgery?

2) Looking at the cell phone during performances.   Less of an offense, but still distracting. Sure, it makes no sound, but smartphone screens are so big now that it’s like shining a flashlight into the eyes of nine people behind you.

3) Actually taking the call when it rings.  I’ve seen this actually happen, not just at faculty meetings, but at a performance as well.  This is crazy.

These actions are rude and disrespectful to the other audience members and performers. One question I have is this–why do people do this?  I’ve never found somebody who has come forward to admit that they do this on purpose.  The assumption is that these are selfish jerks, but couldn’t some of them simply be absent-minded or maybe even expecting that important call?  How many selfish people are we dealing with?

We need to know the answer to the above before we decide how to punish the offenders. Kick them out?  Shame them publicly?  Make them pay a fine?  Do nothing?  Block cell phone calls (even though it’s not legal)?  Click your response in the poll!

What do you think about this?  Do you think it’s getting worse?  What’s the rudest cell phone phone abuse you have ever seen?  Answer below in the comments!



Getting ready for 38 days on the road.  I hope they scheduled time to get their concert attire cleaned.




Richard Sparks on how Barbershop ensembles learn to tune.