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Opinion: Table for two, cell phone or noncell phone?

November 30, 1999
Web posted at: 9:31 a.m. EST (1431 GMT)

by Dan Briody, InfoWorld columnist


(IDG) -- What is it about people incessantly gabbing on their cell phones that raises the ire of those around them? Is it some deep-rooted sense of jealousy? Is it because you think that they think that you think they're cool because they have someone to talk to? Whatever it is, it is incredibly annoying.

I shared a cab with two complete strangers in Las Vegas during Comdex. Packed in the backseat with these two gentlemen, I was already sharing way too much of the same space when the guy in the middle started fishing around for his cell phone. I figured it must be an important call if he had to make right at that particular moment.

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However, by the time I left the cab 20 minutes later, I was up to date on the latest details of his former girlfriend's new apartment, his new roommate's bizarre eating and sleeping behavior, and his mother's impending visit to the San Francisco Bay Area.

I was beside myself, wondering why I had to be subjected to the minutiae of this moron's dysfunctional social life, wondering why he would want me to know, and wondering who was paying for his roaming charges while he flirted mindlessly with someone on the other end.

At this point, let me be clear about something. There are at least two types of cell phone users. Some use their phones with resignation, efficiency, and slight embarrassment. These are the ones that command respect if only for the fact that they use the phone because they have to. I like to call the other group "cell phonies." These are the ones that use their phone more for the people physically in their presence than for the person on the other end of the line. You know the type.

It is with this frustration in mind that one restaurant in New York City's Chelsea section -- ironically, it's called Vox -- instituted a new policy two months ago. Vox now has a cell phone section. The management says that customers are accommodating enough, politely excusing themselves from tables and moving to the front of the restaurant to smoke, I mean, talk. It is an interesting precedent, and it will be even more interesting to see if it catches on.

When a couple's out to dinner, and one of the two people is having a conversation with another person who isn't there, it's tough to watch. It could be an innocuous enough conversation the cell phony is having, but as an observer, you usually assume the worst, and it can drive you to distraction.

But is that any reason to kick out the lout? It's not as though the perpetrator is showering those around him with carcinogens, like a smoker does. The only thing these wireless weenies are guilty of is bad taste and cell-fishness.

But who knew it was this much of a problem? People had a hard enough time doing away with smoking in restaurants when that came to pass; I imagine this is going to be even harder to swallow.

Seriously though, we still don't know what impact cell phone waves will have on our brains. The truth is, these things could turn out to be totally benign, or they may have serious health ramifications. We just don't know.

And let's not fool ourselves. Health and annoyance concerns are hardly the reasons Vox set up a cell phone section. They corralled the offenders as a public-relations ploy. And it has worked.

It would seem that Vox has capitalized on the growing distaste that the general public has for the cads that abuse the emerging rules of cell phone etiquette. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and the restaurant has had to designate a spokesperson just to handle the calls they are receiving from the media.

In the end, I've identified what it is that bugs me about certain cell phone users in my midst: I don't like listening to one part of a conversation. It's creepy, and it leaves way too much up to my imagination, which can -- and does -- run rampant at times.

But that's not the only reason to be annoyed by these folks. Do you have any problems with cell phonies?

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