The cell phone menace

September 30, 2004|By Clarence Page

WASHINGTON - Cell phones are like vodka martinis. They can be a lot of fun, but they also can impair your judgment.

A good example is offered by the pregnant Washington woman who recently was arrested in one of the city's Metro rapid-transit stations for talking too loudly on her cell phone.

Sakinah Aaron, 23, was leaving the station, chattering away on her cell phone, when Officer George Saoutis of the Metro Transit Police told her to lower her voice.

Ms. Aaron, a Food and Drug Administration clerk, responded with, "You can't tell me how loud I can talk," according to The Washington Post.

If so, that was her first mistake. It's not wise to be rude to a uniformed person who has the power to arrest you. Besides, as any Washingtonian can tell you, Metro Transit has a reputation for telling people all manner of things that they can or cannot do.

Metro police arrested a 45-year-old woman in July for chewing a candy bar. They arrested a 12-year-old girl in 2000 for eating a french fry. They arrested Fawn Hall of Iran-contra scandal fame way back in 1987 for eating a banana, a case that, according to local lore, is "on a peel."

Stories like this amplify John F. Kennedy's description of the District of Columbia as having "Northern charm and Southern efficiency."

Against that backdrop, I was not surprised that a loud cell phone user finally has felt the wrath of this obsessively quiet town's Metro police. Let's face it: The way some people talk on their cell phones is a crime.

It also can be downright dangerous. In one recent, tragic example, a Reston, Va., woman was so absorbed in her cell phone conversation while crossing a street, according to witnesses, that she failed to see a garbage truck that was backing up, and it killed her.

The driver was not charged. Police said speed and alcohol were not factors in the tragedy. Just a cell phone.

People, be careful. Don't be like that poor, unfortunate woman. Put your cell phones down and pay attention to what you're doing!

New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have banned the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. A 2001 University of Utah study found that motorists using cell phones while driving responded late or not at all in braking for a red light and that using a hand-held or hands-free phone did not alter their response time.

More research needs to be done, but I believe what that Utah study is implying is that people lose themselves in conversations on a cell phone in ways that almost never occur in face-to-face conversations.

For example, we quickly can lose awareness of how loudly we are talking. This happens a lot on the express Amtrak passenger trains in the East Coast power corridor.

My fellow passengers and I were entertained on one such trip from Washington to New York City by the details of somebody's messy divorce shouted by a lawyer on his cell phone. I wondered how the parties to this untidy affair would have felt if they knew their lives were being splayed open like beef in a slaughterhouse to the unwilling ears of strangers on a train.

I am obviously not alone in my annoyance over people who shout obscenities and divulge the intimacies of their lives into their cell phones for all the world to hear. As I boarded an Amtrak train in Philadelphia one day, the conductor announced a new experiment called the "quiet car": no cell phones, loud talking or electronic entertainment devices without headphones. I was almost knocked down by the stampede of members of the executive class trying to get to the car where they could escape hearing the details of other people's sex lives and business deals.

More recently, we have the sight of an increasing number of people on the street who appear to be talking to themselves. A closer look reveals why: These new "self-talkers" are talking hands-free on their cell phones. It's not just for driving anymore. It is now for walking down the street or pacing around on the sidewalk, talking and gesturing wildly like what my mother used to call, in less politically correct times, a "crazy person."

Don't get me wrong. I love my cell phone. I am already forgetting how we ever got along without them. But, please, folks, when someone asks you to lower your voice, the world does not want to hear about your rights. We only want to hear the sound of your silence.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Thursdays in The Sun.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.