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Courtesy, consideration are key words for public cell phone use

How did we ever manage without cell phones? They are both the boon and bane of life today. As they become more ubiquitous, the responsibility grows to use them safely and courteously.

According to Jim Richmond, director of corporate sales for Cellular South, approximately 60% of the population across the nation have a cell phone, and in some areas it’s as high as 70%. He expects that percentage to rise to 80% to 85% nationwide in the next few years.

“Safety and phone etiquette are the two most important things regarding cell phone usage,” he said. “Yes, I think they are issues. It’s important to use them in the correct way, and we promote that at every opportunity.”

He notes that ringing cell phones can be annoying in certain places, but all models have silent or vibration feature that cut out the intruding noise but still notify customers about incoming calls

“That’s the best way to handle calls from a good manners standpoint, but I think people forget to change their phones,” Richmond said. “I put mine on that first thing in the morning.”

He says the privately-owned, regional cell phone company promotes etiquette and safety issues in bill messages and always tries to train customers about the vibration feature when phones are purchased.

Their first phone etiquette tip notes that certain settings — churches, funerals, movie theatres, classrooms, stage plays — are inappropriate for receiving or placing a call.

Ringing in the pews

Sister Mary Riordan of Nativity Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral in Biloxi says her church has found a way to stop the intrusive ringing of cell phones during weekend Mass. “Before the service begins, the cantor asks everyone to respectfully turn off their cell phones,” she said. “We’ve been doing it over a year, and it has really helped us a lot. One seldom goes off now, but they used to go off a lot.”

She says the request is made gently and respectfully and ends with a thank you for understanding and consideration of others in attendance. She feels no one intends to have their phones ring in church but forgets to turn them off. The announcement serves as a reminder.

However, Riordan, a retired educator currently conducting Lenten classes at Nativity, said no announcements are made at daily Mass and occasionally a cell phone goes off — including hers.

At the Gulf Coast’s newest movie theatre, the Grand Theatre in D’Iberville which opened in December, cell phones are already a problem.

“People do complain about it, but there’s really no way to control it,” manager Larry Morris said. “We have a trailer message that runs across the bottom of the screen during previews that asks people to turn them off. Still, some will take calls and talk during a movie when the decent thing to do would be to step outside.”

Who hasn’t had a meal at a nice restaurant disturbed by someone talking on a cell phone? Vrazel’s Restaurant has been serving fine food in Gulfport for 19 years. However, manager Heather Vrazel Radix remains optimistic that these intrusions are not a major concern.

“We might get one or two complaints a day, but most people get up from the table and go outside to talk,” she said. “Every now and then we hear them go off, but it’s not much of a problem.”

Jackson advertising executive Mike Booth has become more accepting of cell phone usage in public places but still finds it discourteous when he’s stuck in line somewhere and someone in front or behind him starts a private conversation that he doesn’t want to hear.

“I was in a meeting and the person conducting the meeting took a call and talked with 15 people in the room,” the managing partner of Maris, West & Baker Advertising said. “I don’t know why he felt the pressure to answer it. We used to feel we didn’t always have to answer a ringing phone.”

Booth admits that cell phones have some civilizing potential, and that they’ve improved business even though their usage forces users to always be on duty.

Another etiquette tip from Cellular South suggests that private conversations should not be held within 10 to 15 feet of other individuals. And, be cognizant of where you stand or sit while making public calls and avoid extended calls in public.

Other tips include: alerting companions ahead of time if you are expecting a call in a meeting and excusing yourself when the call comes; setting your phone to a low, basic ring rather than a loud or annoying melody when in public; avoiding animated or loud conversations in public and keeping your voice low; ending calls before approaching service counters such as those in grocery stores, banks, retail shops and restaurants; and being considerate about using cell phones in small, confined places such as elevators, public restrooms or waiting areas.

Richmond said some states have passed laws restricting cell phone usage while driving unless using hands-free phones. “We promote that, too and are selling a lot of hands-free kits and earbuds,” he said. “A lot of companies are requiring hands-free phones in employees’ cars. We have warranty-certified technicians who install these kits.”

He says there’s a trend, especially among young people, to have a cell phone and no other phone, a trend he expects to grow. Unlimited long distance usage is the hottest new calling feature and a pocket PC./cell phone is the latest new gadget.

“It’s basically a mini computer and cell phone rolled together into a unit handset, and it’s really great,” he said. “It’s primarily for business, but it will shift down to individuals.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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