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The Great Debates Cell Phone
Usage in

Reader Feedback:

To all who wrote in support of my cellular phone editorial, thank you. To those who took the other side, I feel your pain. I wouldnít want to give the impression that I enjoy it when Iím seated next to an insensitive, self-important loudmouth who yaks away on his cellular phone and has total disregard for others (or, even worse, is very aware of others but thinks his conduct will make him appear impressive and affluent). I think that guy (somehow, it's always a guy) definitely needs therapy, or at least a whack in the head. But I donít think a cellular phone ban is the answer.

What really disappointed me about Danny Meyerís anti-cellular-phone diatribe, published in his widely distributed newsletter, was that it represented a lost opportunity. Instead of using his status as industry leader and role model to raise the publicís consciousness of cellular phone etiquette (an area in which the public could certainly use some instruction), Mr. Meyer chose instead to throw a hissy fit. He lashed out at a group of customers (some of his best customers, I might add) instead of taking the reasoned, balanced approach that Iíve come to expect from him. Mr. Meyer attracted a substantial amount of media attention on account of his gambit, so in that sense it may have been a success, but I doubt it will do much to address the actual problem of loud behavior in restaurants. If anything, Mr. Meyerís conduct will serve only to polarize. Still, as perhaps Americaís greatest restaurateur, Mr. Meyer has earned the right to be wrong once in a while. By contrast, Tim and Nina Zagat, who have never done anything of value in the restaurant business, are totally out of line in advocating a cellular phone ban.

So, at the risk of growing tiresome, let me once again state what I think is my core argument: There is no practical or ethical distinction between somebody talking loudly on a cellular phone and somebody talking loudly to a person sitting right there at the table. Conversely, there is no meaningful distinction between somebody talking on a cellular phone at a polite volume level and somebody having a quiet conversation with his or her table companions. If people are having a negative reaction to the use of cellular phones per se, then it is based not on reason but on emotion--dangerous emotion, I might add, in that it triggers what I consider one of the worst tendencies in humans: The need to compel others to live their lives a certain way. If, however, people are having a problem only with loud cellular phone talkers, I can sympathize--but I canít see how that justifies targeting cellular phone users as opposed to all loud talkers. I canít explain it any better without a Venn diagram.

What we need is not a ban but, rather, a constructive solution. I suggest that Danny Meyer, the Zagats and all those who have until now advocated a ban refocus their efforts on instilling in the dining public an ethic of responsible cellular phone usage. In furtherance of that goal, I present my own little "Cellular Phone Bill of Responsibilities" in the hopes of opening a more productive dialogue:

1. When in a restaurant or other closed space, please disable the audible signal on your cellular phone. If your phone lacks a vibration feature or visual signal (a situation you should correct if you are a frequent cellular phone user), please set it on the lowest available ringer volume and least intrusive ringer sound (some phones, for example, can be set to beep just once when an incoming call is detected) and try to answer it right away.

2. If you receive a call on your cellular phone and anticipate that it will be a long conversation, please excuse yourself and take the call near the restaurantís pay phones or in some other place outside the main dining area.

3. If you choose to remain at your table while you use your cellular phone, please speak at normal conversational volume levels.

4. Please understand that, while itís really none of their business, some people are upset by the mere sight of a person in a restaurant using a cellular phone. Therefore, out of respect for these admittedly irrational people, please limit cellular phone usage to essential, time-sensitive calls.

Steven A. Shaw
Steven Shaw's New York Restaurant Review & Food Guide

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I find the discussion of pros and cons of cellular phones in restaurants absolutely ridiculous! I am 71 years old and find that science has given us the fantastic ability to call our children or have them call us in either a restaurant, a doctors office, or a hospital, or on a freeway with a flat tire, AWESOME!! So if that child, husband, grandchild, doctor, whatever calls me at the restaurant where I am waiting for them to come, and informs me that they will be 10 to 30 minutes late, or not coming at all, is a real boon to my just sitting there waiting for anything, or something to happen. Cell phones are a boon not a bane!!

Joan Cusack

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One could always be a little sympathetic and laugh a little at those who feel important enough to either keep their phones switched on or not turn them to vibrate, sad people in need of a little understanding? Another thing to think about is that these people are sitting in your restaurant eating when they could be slaves to an office phone, not having the chance to spend their money in your establishment, and once all have a phone then nobody will mind when another's rings!

Dave Gavin, Innside Hotel, Ratingen, Germany.

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I have read the passionate debate about cell phone usage.

From the perspective of the Antipodes...Oz... not Austria...downunder!!!, I think the US industry should look back to the example of the wild west.

Gun slingers were required to hand over their holsters at the front counter. Why not ask 1999 gunslingers to hand over their cell phones to the host who could keep them behind the counter and perhaps answer them whilst their owners relaxed and enjoyed their meal.

John F. Bray -
Yamato Toowong Modern Japanese Restaurant

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I think some of the negative attitude that cell phone users experience has exactly everything to do with the out-dated perception of the guy in the BMW who's showing off, as one reader stated. The reality today is much different. I am not an executive and couldn't even afford the hubcap off of a BMW, but my cellular is an essential part of doing my job and I don't think my situation is unique. Could some of these problems wait until I was 'in the office'? Of course, but why should I sacrifice something that allows me to better perform my job because someone else looks down on my snooty fancy new gadget? I always use courtesy and respect and that should be more than enough for anyone. And for those of you without a cellular phone: COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS! I'd burn mine in a heartbeat and do without if I could!


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