The sound of silence

We’ve all noticed the profusion of cell phones here on campus. There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t see someone with one attached to their ear as they head to or from class, stand in line at Hibbs, or oddly enough, even while in the restroom. It’s such a commonplace occurrence that for the most part, we don’t give them a second look. Granted, that’s because we’re probably doing the exact same thing and are focusing on our own conversations.

There are times, however, that cell phones seem to be more of a nuisance than they’re worth, usually when they go off during a class, or even more annoyingly, when people decide to have drawn out conversations about nothing on their cell phone in the library. Don’t get me wrong, this is not meant to be an attack on cell phones or on cell phone users. I, myself, have on occasion benefited from the knowledge that thanks to my cell phone, help is more accessible if I need it.

However, there is a time and a place for cell phone usage. In particular, the quiet floor of the library is neither, especially during exam season. I could understand a brief conversation in a low voice on a cell phone in the library if there was an emergency or some other justifiable reason. Unfortunately, just catching up with your friends or ordering food to be delivered to the library while other people are trying to study don’t exactly fall under the category of justifiable reason. I don’t believe people are consciously trying to be rude in their cell phone usage, but perhaps just forget where they are when that all -important call from their friends or significant other comes in.

Of course, the addition of Java 901 probably helps them forget by lending more of a hangout feeling to the library than a simply academic one. If people studying are lucky, the cell users around them would have remembered to switch over to vibrate if they can’t stand to be cut off from the outside world; or perhaps they’ll even answer before treating the floor to their “Flight of the Bumblebee” ring tone 20 times.

Even then, the cell user will decide to sit and have their conversation at the table most of the time instead of explaining where they are and saying that they can’t talk or going outside to have their conversations, thereby making the other patrons into unintentional eavesdroppers since their conversations are at a normal volume of speech.

There are those who try to be conscientious about their cell phone use by taking the phone into the restroom or the nearest stairwell. In theory, it’s a wonderful and considerate idea … in practice it doesn’t work. The tiles in the restrooms and the stones in the stairwell just provide excellent surfaces for sound to bounce off, and given that people speak in normal tones since they feel they have privacy, the echoing just makes it sound louder.

So what can be done about the nuisance of cell phones in the library? In an ideal world, the library could install cell phone blockers, which create artificial “dead zones” in cellular service, on each floor. Of course, in an ideal world, such measures would not be necessary. Besides, the FCC has some issue with the legality of such devices. Perhaps the library security guards while making their rounds could ask people to refrain from cell phone usage, on the quiet floor if nowhere else.

However, there is no guarantee that this would work either. Perhaps the best solution would be for us as individuals to monitor our own cell phone habits and ask our friends to do the same, maybe a grassroots cell phone etiquette movement would catch on. Of course, there’s also the possibility that cell users reading these words could realize their unintentional offensiveness and correct their behavior on their own. To those people I say “Can you hear me now? Good.”

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