You have to love a business that has the gumption to ban Madonna -- simply for having the audacity to use her cell phone. But that's just what happened in October after the performer dared to ignore the strict no-talking and no-texting policy at the Alamo Drafthouse, an indie cinema chain known for its commitment to cinema-going etiquette.
It was probably the smartest marketing move the chain has made since opening its first location in 1997. It not only demonstrated that it treats everyone equally, but also proved that nonstop texting and talking are simply out of control.
And it left a lot of people wishing they had the power to do exactly what management at that New York City theater did to a performer who clearly thought she was more important than those around her: Stand up, speak out and tell someone to get off the phone.
Please Shut Up
The incident at the Alamo crystalized one of the most pervasive problems of modern life: The cell phone as an extension of a person's body. Almost everyone has a mobile phone, and far too many of them think the world revolves around their phone, their conversations and their texts.
Forget the fact that someone else is working, eating, shopping, napping on a plane or watching a movie. Somehow everyone seems to be taking the "i" in iPhone literally, even if they use an Android or BlackBerry device.
In the not too distant past, personal calls were, well, personal. But now the ubiquity of mobile phones has ushered in a new era of over sharing -- and subjected all of us to the burden of too much information, too much of the time.
Do we really need to hear the intimate details of almost anyone's life, from friends and relatives to co-workers and total strangers? Do we really need to try to have a conversation with a colleague while she demonstrates her skill as a text master? What's the real price of the loss of silence?
That's why it was so refreshing to see the response from Alamo co-founder and CEO Tim League after the incident:
Jive Software, a communication and collaboration platform, and Harris Interactive recently partnered to look into how mobile phone usage is affecting today’s workers. And generally speaking, the results were far from positive.
Harris Interactive conducted the online survey on behalf of Jive from November 7 to 11 among 2,010 US adults ages 18 and older.
There was a time when making a phone call was an activity regarded almost reverently. People made appointment calls, waiting patiently until they were home alone to have a conversation in private. They stepped into phone booths -- or boxes, depending on the geographic location -- to speak in hushed tones while feeding a steady stream of coins in the phone slots.
In the U.S., phone booths were gradually replaced by pay phone kiosks, which take up less space, are easier to maintain and meet national standards for accessibility by the disabled. Then pay phones themselves were displaced by mobile phones: In 1997, there were more than 2 million pay phones in the US, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Today, the American Public Communications Council estimates there are less than 500,000 pay phones left.
But Everyone Still Talks … and More
Back in 1928, in an attempt to get people to vote for US Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover, the Republican National Committee came up with the promise of "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage."
Today, the promise that seems to resonate comes from the likes of Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft: In just a matter of years, they seem to have placed a cell phone in every hand. And as the phones became smarter, the users seem to have become dumber.
We talk, text, surf the web, take pictures and post them to social media, all the while we're walking, working, driving.
We need signs to remind us not to talk on our phones in restaurants -- and the kindness of strangers to keep us from walking into traffic while texting on our phones.
Phoning it In
Maybe it's time for some early New Year's resolutions. Maybe we should resolve to turn down our phones, silence those attention getting ringtones, text only when we actually have something to say and take fewer pictures.
As one Manhattan woman told me:
I hate it when my co-workers take pictures of themselves or of the environment. It’s annoying. I actually hate it when people do that. Why? I don't know. We’re at work. Why do you need to be taking a selfie to post on Twitter to show how tired you are Monday morning?"
Title image © Pascal Mannaerts / CC-BY-SA-3.0.