We’ve all seen those increasingly annoying signs forbidding cell phone use. (In case you don’t have one, take your pick here.) I’m starting to see these in more and more places. Yesterday I had to get my driver’s license renewed. When I walked through the outer door, there was a handwritten sign forbidding cell phone use. As I walked through the inner door, there was another one signed by the highway patrol. (I suppose the entire highway patrol department is in agreement on this policy.) Later I was sent into a waiting room and left to amuse myself with the three-year old magazines. This tiny room had “no cell phone” signs on every wall.
What exactly are they afraid of? I can understand not wanting a lot of loud talkers shouting to be heard on their phones. I can understand not wanting someone simultaneously talking on a cell phone while explaining to the “customer service” agent what they need. Of course libraries come to mind when I think of signs saying “no cell phones”. Libraries love to plaster these signs about. But again, what exactly are libraries afraid of?
There is an obvious balancing point here. Unfortunately most organizations don’t look for it. It’s easier just to put up a sign saying that cell phones aren’t allowed. I think most places could survive if patrons/customers were allowed to switch their phones to silent. Text messaging, surfing the Internet, and reading e-mail aren’t inherently noisy activities, and most people can accomplish them pretty quietly.
It’s definitely time for a new range of signs. We need signs that encourage people to use technology in the appropriate ways and in appropriate places. Libraries are perfectly appropriate places for using a cell phone to look up information and exchange text messages. We need to keep in mind that while certain behaviors are annoying and disruptive, those behaviors are exhibited by some people, not all. Most people choose to use their technology responsibly, and we shouldn’t declare a wholesale ban on technology to regulate the behaviors of a few problem patrons!