August 3, 2000
7:48 PM   Subscribe

Dack provides a pointer to the growing backlash in the US against cell phone use. While "conspicuous" phone use can certainly at times be annoying, the general level of distaste and phone rage seems to be a phenomenon confined to the United States.
People in Europe, Australia and Asia, took to mobile technology like the proverbial ducks to water and haven't developed anywhere near the same irritation levels.
Is this just a difficult transition for a country slow to adopt a technology or says something deeper about the American psyche? Afterall, we are talking about the country that invented Dick Tracy and Maxwell Smart.
posted by lagado (14 comments total)
Yeah, but Tracy and Smart didn't sit next to you on the bus blabbing loudly into their wrists/shoes about how there's this one girl in their office who, they swear, must go out with a different guy every single night or something, it's totally ridiculous, she needs to settle down and get her shit together, because she may think she's all that, but she has another think coming.
posted by wiremommy at 8:04 PM on August 3, 2000


Still, that same person could do the same thing on a bus in London, Kuala Lumpur or Melbourne and not get yelled at.

posted by lagado at 8:39 PM on August 3, 2000

I think a big part is that cellphones don't work. They're always breaking up, you have to yell to be heard. When people say they're going to have the 'net on their phones i laugh. You can't even have a damn conversation and you expect people to download movies and music? Come on!
posted by owillis at 9:31 PM on August 3, 2000

I live in Japan, and despite the fact that just about everyone from high school students to old ladies (and even me) have cell phones, people do get irritated about cell phone use. Which is sometimes understandable - I remember, while riding the train one day, I saw a girl talking on her phone - to her friend in another car. Still, most cell phone-bashing is unwarranted, in my opinion. Just tune that shit out.
posted by SilentSalamander at 12:13 AM on August 4, 2000

Still, that same person could do the same thing on a bus in London, Kuala Lumpur or Melbourne and not get yelled at.

You haven't seen PhoneBashing, then.

(At Wimbledon, the instruction to turn off mobiles was greeted by thunderous applause. And at the Proms last night, a mobile phone rang in between movements, leading someone to shout "ANSWER IT, THEN!")
posted by holgate at 5:31 AM on August 4, 2000

I wish Britain was more like you guys in our attitude to cellphones, every schoolkid now has one since they introduced pay-as-you-go tariffs, there is hardly anywhere you go now where you don't hear someone's annoying ring tune beeping away - they are not musical instruments people...
I know of one restaurant in London however with a no-phone policy, anyone caught with their phone ringing has it deep fried and served up to them on a bed of salad with a lemon wedge.
posted by Markb at 5:33 AM on August 4, 2000

I believe that the phonebashing site was outed as a hoax?

I'm not particularly *pro* cell phones, but what if the people complained about were having a conversation with a friend sitting next to them. Is that just as annoying?

posted by anitar at 8:34 AM on August 4, 2000

I feel sorry for people when I see them answer the ringing cell phone. I see carrying a cell phone as being on a short leash, even more oppressive than the pager, since you don't get to call back at your leisure.

See what freedom is like, folks. Dare to go run an errand for an hour where NOBODY can CALL YOU. Your company will not have gone down in flames while you were out (for most people :)
posted by flestrin at 10:25 AM on August 4, 2000

I bounced around a few worldwide news sites this morning after this topic was first posted, and had no problem finding stories about non-Americans being annoyed (to put it mildly) by tactless local cell phone users. Whether Americans in general are more disturbed by this trend is up for debate, I guess, but we're definitely not alone.

But if we are, I can hazard a guess why: Essentially every American has home phone service as well, service that is easier to get, and cheaper, than in almost any other part of the world. To us, cell phones are, almost by definition, extraneous and less-than-truly-necessary status symbols that are often used by people only to have conversations in public that they could just as easily have at home, in private where they wouldn't bother anyone, for far less money. (Note that in most of the US, regular wired local phone service is flat-rate per month for unlimited usage, and the person on the receiving end of your call pays nothing.)

But in most other parts of the world, wired phone service is run by the government, with comparatively huge per-month charges, as well as per-minute charges for sending and receiving. And in many places it can take months, or even years, to get a phone line, and you'll pay through the nose for installation. So when cell phones came along in all these other places, they weren't just viewed as cool new toys, but as a truly useful, often cost-conscious way to get and use phone service at all. (Another note: In most parts of the world cell phone users don't pay to receive calls. In the US we do. Just one more reason we can tend to see cell phones as showoff extravagances; "Look at me! I spend lots of time on my cell phone, so you know I have money!") Indeed, this is why mobile phones have been able to proliferate in other parts of the world even faster than in the US.
posted by aaron at 2:00 PM on August 4, 2000

I have a vivid memory of Christmas Eve 1998 in London -- riding on a No. 8 bus, listening as the woman seated next to me answered her ringing phone with a sigh and said, (obviously in response to the question "Where are you?") "I'm in Oxford High Street! I'm on a bus! I'm on my way home and when I get there I'll cook the blooming Christmas pudding, now STOP CALLING ME!" She then turned her phone off and dropped it inside one of her overstuffed Selfridge's bags, to the applause of onlookers all around.

It was at that moment I became convinced to use my mobile only in places and at times when I could not be a nuisance or object of awareness to anyone around. One need not make a show of their ability to communicate.
posted by Dreama at 2:02 PM on August 4, 2000

flestrin: What I do is, just turn off the ring. I can call out, no one can call in. The perfect phone, end of problem. :)

(It helps my cell has voice mail, but there ya go...)

posted by aurelian at 2:55 PM on August 4, 2000

Aaron's explanation is a reasonable attempt but for the record, I'd like to point out that nearly all of the places I mentioned have convenient access to the telephone service. Hong Kong, for example, has free local calls. Australia's (government owned) local calls are untimed and cheap.Also for the record most of these places have access to clean drinking water.
posted by lagado at 5:12 PM on August 4, 2000

Europeans' threshold for complaining about what annoys them is higher than Americans'. I think Europeans find public cell phone use to be just as disruptive as anyone does but they just complain less about it. After living in Europe for a couple years now (I am American) I have to ask: "What's wrong with us Americans?! Why do we complain so much about everything?" American tourists can be heard a mile away complaining loudly about how things here are so wrong, or backward, or slow, or whatever, ad infinitum. This is not just a stereotype it is a truth to be sure. The only thing more annoying than American tourists is their kids. They're ten times louder and a hundred times more annoying than any cell phone conversation! The point: cell phones are annoying everywhere but Americans feel the greatest need to complain about it.

BTW, I happen to agree with some of those tourists' sentiments but, instead of complaining, I'm doing something about it: I'm moving back to America.
posted by plaindude at 5:12 AM on August 5, 2000

Aaron's more or less accurate, especially wrt Europe: here, it's getting to the stage that it's cheaper to run a mobile phone than a landline, simply because competition between networks has driven down prices. The only trouble being that every other shop now sells the damn things: we're getting Douglas Adams' "shoe event horizon", just with mobiles.
posted by holgate at 5:26 PM on August 6, 2000

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