A commentary on a relatively light note -- well, sort of

July 5, 2014 

This month marks an observance most Americans probably aren't even aware of. No, not the anniversary of our nation's independence, which millions of Americans have been celebrating this weekend.

This is an observance of more recent vintage … although it has, in fact, been around for 12 nears now. But you won't see any fireworks in celebration of it, or department store sales commemorating it.

Give up? July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month, created by etiquette author Jacqueline Whitmore in 2002. On her website, www.etiquetteexpert.com, Whitmore has laid out some good-manners guidelines for portable phone behavior that should be givens -- but which, sadly and quite obviously, are anything but.

Among the most curious and troublesome phenomena associated with portable communications devices is how otherwise thoughtful and considerate people suddenly become oblivious to everything and everybody around them once that phone rings (or beeps, or sings, or chimes, or jingles, or honks, or quacks, or inflicts some other annoying and often noxiously loud noise on everybody within earshot of a cherry bomb.)

Some offenders, of course, are beyond the pale. The movie theater phone jabberer probably finds the whole concept of courtesy incomprehensible and irrelevant. The guy in the restaurant who turns on the phone's speaker and sets it on the table so he can eat while inflicting a loud two-way conversation on the whole room, as if this is what the other patrons are paying for, is either just a hopelessly boorish idiot or a randomly aggressive jerk.

But for the socially salvageable, Whitmore offers some helpful reminders:

"Keep it private": There are conversations you don't want others to hear -- and many that others don't want to hear. (Folks in the hospital waiting room really, really don't want to know the details of Uncle Fred's gall bladder surgery.)

"Be all there": We should all know the places, times and situations when taking a cell phone call would be rude and disruptive. Turn it off. (True story: A prominent state official who had asked to meet with our editorial board showed up 20 minutes late, walking into the lobby in the middle of a cell phone conversation which continued up the elevator and into the conference room, where we waited another 10 minutes for this call to finish. We were tempted to throw her, and her cell phone, out the second-story window … but of course that would have been bad manners.)

"Excuse yourself": If you're expecting a call of immediate importance, tell associates in advance so the interruption won't be considered impolite.

And of course, "Focus on driving": This one should be the most obvious of all, but the preponderance of evidence says otherwise. Drive now, talk later.

These are just a few of Whitmore's suggestions; all of them are, or should be, just matters of common sense and common consideration.

Happy National Cell Phone Courtesy Month.

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