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The polite cell user.

Byline: Lewis Taylor The Register-Guard

Chatty college students and texting tweens aren't the only ones misusing their cell phones, says Mindy Lockard, a Eugene etiquette consultant who publishes the Web site Manner of the Month (

"I don't want to be the person that's telling people what they can and can't do," Lockard explains. "But there's bad (cell phone) behavior across the board, and it's important for adults to be modeling good behavior."

Cell phone etiquette is one of those subjects almost everyone has an opinion on.

A 2000 story in the online technology journal titled "The Ten Commandments of cell phone usage" (No. 10: "Thou shalt not slam thy cell phone down on a restaurant table just in case it rings") drew so many comments that the editors revised the list last year and printed hundreds of reader suggestions: "If thou leavest thy phone upon thy desk in thine absence, please makest thou certain to silence its ringer."

But if we're all in agreement that people's cell phone manners need improving, why do we continue to misbehave?

Experts such as Lockard say technological change leads to social change, and often there is a lag between the two. Nobody ever showed us how to use cell phones. They just showed up one day, and we started using them. As a result, we all have some catching up to do.

Lockard teaches classes, including one called Cellular Phone Savvy, that emphasize what she calls "cellular phone mindfulness." That means basically being aware of how your obnoxious ring tone or loud conversation affects people around you.

Most of her focus has been teaching proper cell phone use to kids, but she says many adults can benefit from a lesson or two. And because it's up to parents to teach their kids about the responsibility that comes with having a phone, parents are often as much a part of her classes as the little ones.

Lockard isn't trying to stamp out cell phone use. She actually carries a Blackberry smart phone herself. But she is hopeful that by introducing kids to cell phones as useful tools, parents can avoid shortchanging the process of discovery and real live human interaction that is a natural part of childhood.

And maybe the adults will learn a thing or two themselves.

"I would like to think my children will be in their mid- to late teens (before they have a cell phone), but the reality is, they may not," she says, citing statistics from Jupiter Research that predict half of all children ages 12 to 13 will have a cell phone by the end of 2007 and half of all tweens (those kids age 8 to 12) will be using cell phones by 2010.

"We can't run from technology. We need to approach it with respect and a sense of responsibility," she says.

The young may be guilty of many cell phone infractions, but don't forget the gray-haired baby boomer yapping away at the grocery store checkout counter, or the guy who looks like Michael Scott from "The Office" with the polyphonic Soulja Boy ringtone.

Just being more mindful of how our gadgets affect other people would make a world of difference, Lockard suggests.

"If you're sitting a few feet from someone else, he or she probably doesn't want to hear your telephone conversation," she said. "If someone's trying to read and you're talking, that communicates that you think your life is more important than what's going on around you, whether you feel that way or not."

Lockard advocates not talking on your cell phone at all while inside public spaces, unless it's an emergency.

"You can always take a step outside," she suggests.

Lockard agreed to meet me at the Starbucks on 13th Avenue near the University of Oregon to discuss etiquette - and maybe to witness some common cell phone faux pas.

Since the rules of good manners do not sanction pointing and whispering about other people, I could tell Lockard was a bit uncomfortable playing the role of cell phone referee. Nevertheless, she politely pointed out (without actually pointing) several infractions.

The behavior: A student places the cell phone on the table in front of him while sitting with a group of friends.

Why it's impolite: It sends a nonverbal signal to the other person that you're waiting for something more important.

The behavior: A frat guy crosses the street without looking while texting.

Why it's impolite: It's dangerous, duh.

The behavior: Some dude with Vans and skinny jeans clogs up the coffee shop entry way answering his cell phone, then clogs up the register talking on his cell phone.

Why it's impolite: He is inconveniencing everyone around him.

At first, many of Lockard's rules of etiquette seem extreme. Isn't being able to, say, call your wife from the grocery store one of the reasons we have cell phones?

Well, there are exceptions to the rules. For instance, Lockard says, if you're expecting an important call and you're sitting with a friend having coffee, you can explain ahead of time and ask if they mind if you take the call.

As with other rules of etiquette, some infractions are easy to point out, even if you don't know why they're wrong - for example, talking while in a restroom.

"Using the restroom," she explained, "should be a private affair. You would not want to invite that person into the restroom. And if you did, they would hopefully decline."

Lockard puts in the same category: talking and eating; talking and smoking; or talking and slurping a soda.

You're not fooling anyone, she says.

Cell phones pick up background sounds, and the person on the other end of the line can hear the tile echoes of the bathroom or the crunch of snack food.

I didn't really have to ask Lockard about the oldest rule in the book - not using a hand-held cell phone while driving - but she pointed out another problem with the practice that goes beyond safety.

"If you're driving, you're not able to give that person the attention they deserve," she explains.

For that reason, Lockard recommends against using headsets or other hands-free devices while driving. Just skip the phone calls in a moving car, she suggests.

Many cell phone etiquette issues fall under the category of what Lockard calls "people holding," which is essentially asking the people around you to wait while you have a conversation.

When you're enjoying coffee with a friend and take a call on your phone, only to leave your table mate to their own devices, you're doing just that.

"She's a perfect example of `people holding," Lockard said, motioning toward a bored girlfriend whose boyfriend was chatting away on the phone across from her.

"You don't really know what to do, where you're supposed to look," Lockard explained. "The person in front of you should always be your priority."

the mannerly cell phone user

Rule of thumb: Most suggestions for proper cell phone use can be boiled down to the simple idea of being mindful of how you're affecting the people you're talking to on the phone and the people around you, Eugene etiquette consultant Mindy Lockard says. If it feels as if you're being disrespectful, you probably are.

Agree in advance: In her class on cell phone etiquette for kids, Lockard hands out an agreement to be signed by children and their parents. The agreement lays out the ground rules for everything from when calls will be made and received to what the phone's camera will be used for, and makes it clear that using a cell phone is a privilege.

Did you know: If you're talking to someone on a cell phone and the call is dropped, it's the responsibility of the person who made the original call to redial the recipient.
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Title Annotation:General news
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 31, 2008
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