Cellphones: Quieting the public nuisances
Anyone who has been forced to endure a stranger’s loud and public cellphone conversation in a supermarket line or a restaurant will understand this story:
A woman boarded an Amtrak train in Oakland last Saturday night and proceeded to talk loudly on her cellphone for much of the rest of her 16-hour voyage. Repeated pleas from her fellow passengers — and the conductor — to be quiet fell on, um, deaf ears. Things got so bad that Amtrak officials stopped the train between stations Sunday afternoon in Salem, Ore., and had local police escort her off for being an “unruly passenger.” (Usually you have to be a ranting drunk on the train to get that designation.) As a wit on Gawker.com wrote, “She was later charged with unspeakable crimes against humanity and sentenced to life on some distant planet where there are no reception bars, ever.”
The question of how to cope with cellphones in public has been a thorny issue for more than a decade. But what’s heartening here is that Amtrak officials did something assertive on behalf of the suffering passengers after the woman broke the rule forbidding cellphone use in coach cars at night.
Increasingly, there are rules to limit cellphone use everywhere. On some shorter lines, Amtrak has “quiet cars” where noise from phones, laptops and other devices is prohibited. Gyms often outlaw cellphones in workout areas, and restaurants sometimes nix them. The Los Angeles Public Library system restricts use to lobby areas.
But often rules are unenforced or are not posted or don’t exist at all. In fact, L.A.'s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is working on providing cellphone access on subway trains, not taking it away. (Loud radios are still prohibited on buses and trains.)
A sense of entitlement pervades our public areas — a kind of “I want to talk, therefore I will” attitude. And cellphone use is just one example. If only those police officers who took the woman off the Amtrak train could come cart away the people who yak loudly on their townhouse patios on Saturday at 8 a.m. or crank up their stereos at 3 a.m.
But short of a rudeness police — hey, is there a ballot initiative there? — it would improve social well-being if librarians, bus drivers, gym staffers and apartment building managers were more aggressive about quieting irresponsible noisemakers. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get your entire apartment building designated “quiet,” like the Amtrak cars? Until that happens, we can all start by being aware of the people around us and reminding ourselves of what we tell children: Use your indoor voice.
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