Mary Pat: Should People Silence Phones in Public?

Dear Mary Pat,

Wouldn’t you think that people would automatically silence their cell phones while out to dinner or in any public place? When I go out to dinner with friends, there are a couple of them that keep their cell phones on full volume. The first “ding” is annoying. By the time I hear the 34th ding, I can barely keep my focus. I’ve mentioned that it is a distraction to everyone at the table, but they say things like “oh, well it’s just the cost of modern conveniences.” I can assure you, I don’t think it’s a convenience or a benefit to feel like I’m in the middle of a pinball machine with all the competing cell sounds. If whatever is at the other end of that text is so urgent, they should probably not even be out at all. Most likely, it’s just the little messages that we all get and send to our friends and family. I’m all for texting, but flip the switch to silent. Please.



Silence is Golden



Dear Silence is Golden,


I’m with you 1,000 percent. Whenever I’m out, I always keep my phone on silent. I also try to keep my phone in my purse. I’ll admit that the latter is more difficult to do in practice, but I try. If I’m expecting a call or a text that can’t wait, I still keep my phone on silent but put my phone within sight.

We are all conditioned to react to messages quickly. It’s not too different than Pavlov and his dogs. The problem is that in trying not to be rude to the person messaging, we are being rude to the people who are right in front of us. Like any good habit, this is just a matter of practice. Put your phone on silent and try keeping it in your pocket or your purse. You can check your phone after dinner or after the movie or after you leave your friend’s house. Once you get into this discipline, you will be less conditioned to react right away. The funny video or political meme doesn’t necessarily need a 17-second response; it could even wait a couple hours with no dire consequences. There are times when we need to be in touch (on call for work, the babysitter needs to be able to get in touch, etc.) but sometimes it is nice to check out for a while and not contribute to noise pollution.


Good luck,

Mary Pat


P.S. Not to generalize, but sometimes this is a generational problem. My dad had an iPhone for two years before he finally believed us when we told him that you don’t have to turn the phone “off” for it to not make noise. We showed him the silent button on the left side of the phone and now he gets it. Offer phone help where needed. For people not used to smart phones, they can be confusing.

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