Where are your wireless manners?
As public unplugs, rudeness seems to be getting worse
By Amy Cox
Wireless gadgets mean we can communicate almost anywhere, but the debate remains on whether we should.
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CELL PHONE ETIQUETTE 101
Cell phone use seems to spur the most debate on wireless manners. Here are some etiquette tips, which like most good manners, are common courtesy:
(CNN) -- The only thing advancing quicker than wireless innovation may be the rudeness of the people using the technology, experts say.
"The more gadgets there are, the worse things seem to get. People get really wrapped up in their little technological world, and they forget that there are other people out there," said Honore Ervin, co-author of "The Etiquette Grrls: Things You Need to Be Told." "Just because it's there at your disposal, doesn't mean you have to use it 24/7."
A recent poll by market research company Synovate showed that 70 percent of 1,000 respondents observed manner-less technology use in others at least on a daily basis.
About the same percentage saw the poorest etiquette in cell phone users over other devices. The worst habit? Loud phone conversations in public places, or "cell yell," according to 72 percent of the Americans polled.
This world without wires allows technology to ride shotgun throughout daily life, which, for the most part, is a convenient and useful tool. But it's the lack of a politeness protocol that has some up in arms.
"Cell phones obviously are the big, big thing. People use them anywhere and everywhere," Ervin said. "At the movies -- turn off your cell phone. I don't want to pay $10 to be sitting next to some guy chitchatting to his girlfriend on his cell phone."
She also cites the growing complaints by her readers and friends of cell phone use at events such as church services, funerals or school graduations, "and that's just wrong," she said.
This rudeness has deteriorated public spaces, according to Lew Friedland, a communications professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He calls the lack of manners a kind of unconscious rudeness, as many people are not aware of what they're doing or the others around them.
"I think it's really noticeable in any plane, train or bus where you're essentially subjected against your will to someone else's conversation," he said. "You can listen to intimate details of their uncle's illness, relationship problems with their lovers, their breakups and what they're having for dinner.
"It takes what was a public common space and starts to parcel it out and divide it up into small private space."
On his frequent bus rides from Madison to Milwaukee over the years, Friedland said he's watched the arc of cell phone use and rudeness in an informal, but telling, experiment. A short time ago, if cell phone users were politely asked to talk quietly, they would comply with chagrin, he said.
"Now I'm finding more and more people are essentially treating you like it's your problem, like you don't understand that loud cell phone use is normal in public."
But it's not just phones. As Wi-Fi continues to grow in public places, the rules of etiquette for use are up for debate.
"In general, Wi-Fi is terrific ... but what is troublesome is when people use it in cafes or coffee shops, and they just camp out there forever," Ervin said. "They're doing their taxes there. They'll put together three tables so they'll have room to spread out. That's just not right.
"If you go to someplace like that, you stay there 20 minutes and then leave. It's not your living room. Public places are not to be abused."
And typing on a BlackBerry or other PDAs to stay connected is fine, but just don't use them while talking to someone else, Ervin said. "It makes people feel insignificant."
'Like swatting mosquitoes'
But what's the proper etiquette for dealing with cell phone faux pas or people who've shunned you for their BlackBerry?
A low-tech solution is what Ervin calls the "Etiquette Grrls' Icy Glare," a shooting daggers-evil eye combo.
"It reminds people of school librarians and mean teachers," she said. "If that doesn't work, turn around and say very quietly, 'Do you mind?' I think most people are not going to be mean about it because they just don't realize what they're doing."
As more people reach their boiling points for bad wireless manners, Ervin said she believes society will shift toward less tolerance for inconsiderate behavior and less reasons for the "Icy Glare."
"Once the majority of people begin to get annoyed at this sort of thing, there are going to be rules in places like at cafes for a 20-minute limit for using your computer and that sort of thing."
Friedland agrees that people have to set the rules but debates whether it will ever happen. "You can pass legislation about talking on cell phones in public, but it's virtually unenforceable," he said.
He also said the public has yet to reach its limit for tolerating cell phone abuse. He sees people more or less resigned to it.
"It's like swatting at mosquitoes essentially," he said. "You can get one or two, but if there's a swarm of them around you, you just kind of give up or get out of the way. I think cell phones' use in public spaces is partly having the same kind of effect."
But Ervin said she has faith that courtesy will prevail over bad wireless manners.
"I don't like to be too cynical," she said. "Maybe I'm wrong, but I hope not."
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