Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cellphones as a Modern Irritant

This week I've counted three experiences in cafes and restaurants,  where fellow guests, usually sitting by themselves speaking on their cell phones, caused an irritating experience by speaking loud and acting as if they are in their own home or office seemingly with no regard for other guests in this public space. I've been making this my personal crusade by either asking managers of the venues to stop their patrons from using cellphones - somewhat successful - or asking the patrons themselves to lower their voice - less successful, as they usually consider speaking on their cellphone their god-given right - . I always thought that the annoyance was caused by people on their cellphone speaking louder than normal, but now a new study in the journal Plos One while confirming that cellphone conversations are irritating and distracting, explains this is not because people speak louder, but because our brains pick up on a public conversation to someone who is not present. The New York Times reports this as follows:

"college students who were asked to complete anagrams while a nearby researcher talked on her cellphone were more irritated and distracted — and far more likely to remember the contents of the conversation — than students who worked on the same puzzles while the same conversation was conducted by two people in the room. The study is the latest in a growing body of research on why cellphones rank so high on the list of modern irritants. Mounting evidence suggests that the habits encouraged by mobile technology — namely, talking in public to someone who is not there — are tailor made for hijacking the cognitive functions of bystanders............

Because it is next to impossible to tune out a nearby cellphone conversation, people subjected to them often believe — incorrectly — that the talker is being abnormally loud, according to findings from a 2004 study from the University of York, England. Sixty-four commuters were exposed to the same conversation at different volume levels, half as a cellphone call and half as a face-to-face talk. On average, the commuters thought the mobile phone talkers were louder, even when they were not."

The New York Times continues by stating that the annoyance is getting less among the public:

"In 2006, 82 percent of Americans said they were at least occasionally annoyed by cellphone conversations in public. In 2012, that number dropped to 74 percent......"

Although interesting to know what the technical cause is of cellphone annoyance, this doesn't change the basic fact that still an overwhelming majority of Americans is annoyed by cellphone conversations. It's time that the selfish minority of perpetrators of these conversations are being stopped from abusing their rights. So, next time you are annoyed by a loud cellphone conversation, follow me in asking the management of the venues to install a "stop cellphone" policy.  Frankly, I find this as important for our well-being as the ban on smoking.  

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