Cellphone Pollution: A Blogger’s Manifesto

This is getting bad.  I’m at an airport, listening to some moron talk about his business on his cell phone.  Do I say talk?  Who am I kidding?  I mean, scream.

“I’M HERE AT THE AIRPORT,” he yells to each new caller.  All kinds of boring, tedious details follow and the decibels rise.  “ALL RIGHT!  ALL RIGHT!” he ends each conversation.  “LET’S SHAKE AND BAKE!”

Good lord.  I board the plane with my husband.  I would be massaging my ears or something, but my suitcase is too heavy.  I sink onto the seat in time to hear some other cellphone doofus start to tune up behind us.  “IF YOU CAN HELP,” he bleats, “IT WOULD BE APPRECIATIVE?”

Good grief.  Appreciative?

Verbal quibbles aside, I think about the story I once read in the Metropolitan Diary section of The New York Times.  A whole city bus was being held captive, forced to listen to some screamer on his cell.  After several minutes and stops and shared, irritated expressions among other passengers, an elderly woman had turned to the offender and had loudly said to him, “You know, you’re not as interesting as you think you are.”

The man paled.  He quickly ended his conversation and hung up.  He got off at the next stop.

I love that story.  I’ve visualized it so often and replayed it, I almost think I was there on the bus, cheering the elderly silencer on.  Could I ever say anything that definitive and damning?  No, probably not.  I’m more the silent stewer type who heaves sighs and rolls her eyes and gets ignored.  God, how ineffective and sad.

Then, within seconds, a woman across the aisle begins to chat loudly in Spanish.  For a few seconds, I listen.  After all, I reason, that way I can improve my Spanish.  It isn’t really eavesdropping; it’s educational.  Seconds later, I quit.  The only thing her conversation educates me about is how shitty my Spanish is now.  I got lost right after hola.  How depressing is that?  I used to be inadequate in Spanish; I am now extremely inadequate.

But, listening to the plane-talkers, I quickly decide it’s time for a blogging manifesto.  If any of the airlines follows through on the plans I hear about occasionally that will allow passengers to speak on cellphones while in flight, it will be time to launch into guerrilla warfare.  I begin to jot down notes on the back of an envelope, trying to pull my thoughts together.

“What are you writing?” my husband asks nosily.

I tell him.  I add that I’m sick of hearing the loud cellphone detritus of people who are around me.  It’s time for action.

“So how’s that different from a loud conversation between two people?” he wants to know.

“No difference,” I say sulkily.  “I still don’t like loud people.”  But, at least, it occurs to me, I wouldn’t have to listen to a report of where those people are.  “HI!  GUESS WHERE I AM?  I’M IN THE TULSA AIRPORT!”

“It’s no different from listening to a theatrical play,” my husband continues.  (He always continues when he can tell he’s getting on my nerves.)   “Or from reading a blog.  It’s all about self-expression.”

“Nobody has to read my blog, if they don’t like it,” I say.  “Or go to a play if it isn’t good.  It’s all the difference in the world.  Stop goading me, buster.”

He stops goading me and I brood and continue to think about my ever-expanding manifesto: You shouldn’t have to listen to another person’s loud, boorish conversations on a cellphone or otherwise in an airport, a bus or a plane.  You also shouldn’t have to read another person’s blog.  Unless, of course, you are married to that person.  In that case, different rules apply.

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Here’s a completely unrelated article just published today:



(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

3 comments… add one
  • Cynthia Link

    Your piece in the NYT was wonderful. My mother is a 6 year survivor of lung cancer. I e-mailed it to her. She will completely empathize and appreciate it.

    I’m so glad you’re back. I missed the daily entries.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Thanks, Cynthia. Hope your mother is doing well after all she must have been through.

  • Well, I am apparently in a minority, but I love it when people talk on their cell phones. I like eavesdropping in general and cell phones mean I can do it whenever I like. I never pretend not to be listening.

    Hi. Have enjoyed reading your blog, though I have only dipped in here and there. I’ve done the fulsome rant myself — to my boss. But obviously not as well as you, because it didn’t sink in and he was back to saying things like how kind it was of so and so to pay us such a fulsome tribute…

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