Do We Need To Legislate Common Courtesy? - InformationWeek

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Commentary
4/17/2008
03:59 PM
Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
Commentary
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Do We Need To Legislate Common Courtesy?

Turns out cell phone users are jerks the entire world over. On top of this week's proposed ban on in-flight calling in the United States, the mayor of a city in Austria has demanded that cell phone users on public transit keep their phones in silent mode. These are signs that a mobile society is not a polite one...

Turns out cell phone users are jerks the entire world over. On top of this week's proposed ban on in-flight calling in the United States, the mayor of a city in Austria has demanded that cell phone users on public transit keep their phones in silent mode. These are signs that a mobile society is not a polite one...We've probably all been that person at least once. You know, the one who forgets to silence their phone, only to have some highly irritating ringtone blast through an otherwise quiet or peaceful room, such as the lobby at your physician's office, a board meeting, or, heaven forbid, church. For most, it's a mortifying experience. Others, however, hardly seem to notice that they're disturbing those around them.

The sense of entitlement that appears to accompany mobile phones is quite amazing. The conversations that can be overheard walking down the sidewalks of cities such as New York are boggling. At least when you're on the sidewalk, you can hurry past an annoying gabber. The same isn't true in many public places, including mass transit.

Siegfried Nagl, mayor of Graz, Austria, has had enough. This week he mandated that cell phones be silent when on public transit. "People need to know they don't have the right to be on the telephone permanently and constantly," he said in an interview. "It's just not healthy to never be able to get any peace and quiet."

Of course, this has brought the debate of cell phone use in public to many discussion forums. Who is in the right? When in public, does anyone have the right to expect peace and quiet? Or is noise and annoyance the exception?

One attempt to regulate cell phone use in Europe failed. The Associated Press reports that in May, 2007, the mass transit system in Stockholm, Sweden, did away with "cell phone free zones" on subways, buses, and commuter trains just 10 months after launching the spaces. The reason? People just couldn't bother to be courteous and show others any respect.

So this brings me back to the question I pose in the headline. If we can't be courteous to one another voluntarily, is legislation the answer? Will laws actually have any real-world effect? I don't believe they will.

Courtesy and respect are behaviors learned to become a member of any society. Society at large has to respond to those that irk it. Shut up, or get out. Your choice.

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