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!


3 thoughts on “Cell Phone Rudeness

  1. It isn’t just audience members who do this, though. In rehearsals, choir members are constantly looking at their phones, texting, and taking calls, even in semi-professional organizations. It’s one thing to be disrespectful to other spectators (strangers), but quite another to disrespect your co-workers.

  2. Tobin, I recently had an incident during choir rehearsal that was embarrassing but thankfully low-volume: I usually put my phone on “silent” rather than turn it off because my phone sometimes does goofy things when it’s in “straight-to-voicemail” mode/off (e.g. not notifying me that I have a new voicemail message when I turn it back on). I’ve never had a problem with “accidentally flipping the silent button” as my phone doesn’t work that way, BUT this is interesting to note: even in silent mode, an alarm I had set earlier that week (that I didn’t hear while driving to rehearsal) started jingling again during a (thankfully) particularly rousing piece we were rehearsing by Mozart. I don’t think anyone noticed, it was so quiet (which was why I didn’t hear it go off in the car before choir and turn it off), but I was mortified because I knew I would have to pull the phone out at some point and eliminate it as I knew it would go off again in a half hour!

    My point is, I don’t think it’s acceptable to USE your phone during rehearsals/meetings, but I can see people forgetting to turn them off since there’s usually no announcement about it beforehand like there is at a performance…. as for the people actually using cell phones at a performance, I definitely think they should be asked to leave. And we should say so in the announcements. I think it is unacceptable and cannot be attributed to absentmindedness, but simply the slippery slope of narcissism our society seems to be going down in this age of social media and self-promotion…

    ps you might consider checking the “open link in new window” box when you add links to your posts so that when someone clicks in the middle of reading they aren’t immediately whisked away from your blog and by the end of the linked article they’re on to something else and forget to return to finish reading *your* article! 😉

  3. I’ve worked extensively as a school principal or headmaster and as a consultant, presenter and teacher trainer. For a long time now, whenever I have used Power Point in a meeting or presentation, the first slide has been a very large picture of a cell phone crossed out followed by the words ‘Thank You’. It works – most of the time.

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