Undesirable Side Effects of an Unwired World

by : Victor Epand



When it comes to the undesirable side-effects of an increasingly 'unwired' world, poor mobile phone etiquette is today without doubt the world's biggest collective gripe. Many companies and organizations are now taking active steps to cultivate more socially acceptable use of mobile phones, among them many of the biggest cellular operators and leading equipment vendors.

Most, in fact, have now produced booklets on mobile etiquette, and have a policy of asking their own staff to turn off their phones while in meetings. At Harrods's, in London, shoppers are asked politely to turn off their phones as they enter the store. And many entertainment venues now make announcements before the beginning of each performance asking members of the audience to switch off before the lights go down.

One of Europe's bigger mobile operators recently took the offensive by launching an advertising campaign aimed at encouraging more responsible and considerate use of cell phones. The campaign, which began with a series of cinema advertisements reminding people to turn off their phones before the movie, is targeted at people who not only take calls in socially inappropriate places, like restaurants, live entertainment events or churches, but speak so loudly that everyone in the immediate vicinity is obliged to listen to their call.

This intrusive aspect of mobile telephony recently prompted a columnist in the New York Times to publish an article denouncing the technology as the 'real' Y2K virus. Aside from being scathingly critical of the growing number of people inconsiderate enough to inflict their calls on other restaurant diners, theatre-goers and the like, the article pointed to a more insidious problem-the tendency for mobile technologies to lead to overwork and exploitation.

Indeed, growing numbers of cell phone users can frequently be heard to complain that their company now expects them to be available virtually 24 hours a day. Always contactable has come to mean always available, to the point where people are finding work taking over their evenings, weekends and even holidays.

While most handset manufacturers say the answer to this problem is simply to turn off the phone, this simple action can be a hard one for many people, especially in times of increasing stress at work. Older employees fear being considered out of touch with new working methods; younger staffers fear being passed over for promotion in favor of more 'wired' colleagues.

Solving problems of etiquette and over-connectedness requires action from two separate camps. Mobile users need to become more aware of the fact that being interrupted during a face-to-face meeting or social engagement, or having to listen to loud conversations that don't concern them, is a source of annoyance to most people. Mobile phone users should turn their handsets off whenever receiving a call would be inappropriate, for example, in any public place where others are in close proximity, at religious services, funerals, weddings, or in quiet places like nature reserves.

New technologies like GSM's Simple Message Service (SMS), call diversion and voice mail, and discreetly vibrating cell phones leave little excuse for bad manners. In an exceptional case when taking a call in company is unavoidable, users should excuse themselves before answering the phone, and then go to a quiet place where they can sort out their business in private.