Guest Column

The Uncommon Sense of Cell Phones

by Steve Singleton

“Would you shut your dang phone off during the meeting!”

This is the comment that plays in my head whenever someone’s cell phone starts ringing during the middle of a meeting. They started years ago with Beethoven’s 5th or Greensleeves and now have restored the old-fashioned ring of a rotary phone. The problem is it’s not cute during the middle of a meeting. Actually, it’s downright rude.

I don’t believe I have attended a workshop, conference, meeting or any other group gathering during the past year where a cell phone ring hasn’t interrupted at least once. I always appreciate presenters who are not afraid to tell the crowd before the start of the session to turn off their phones. Surprisingly, this works five times out of 10. When no warning is issued, an interruption will almost inevitably occur.

When the cell phone rings, owners respond in one of three ways: (1) They sit as if they didn’t hear it because they think their phone is on vibrate or is turned off and when they finally realize it is their phone ringing they fumble around for two minutes trying to turn the sound off; (2) They get up saying “hello, hello, hello” as if no one else in the room can hear them; or (3) They answer the phone and launch into conversation without budging.

At this point, we all want to slap that sucker silly! But we resist the temptation because we are just as guilty on occasion.

A Banquet Buster
Last month a state legislator on a panel at the state school boards association conference took a call from the platform. He didn’t have enough sense to turn his phone off, but he did have the good sense to try and go behind a curtain at the back of the platform. The problem was the curtain was too close to the wall and he wouldn’t fit behind it. Finally he just pulled it around him and faced the wall. It reminded me of the Wizard of Oz when the wiz tells Dorothy and the gang, “Don’t pay any attention to the little man behind the curtain.”

On another occasion recently, I noticed a varsity coach sitting at the head table of an athletic awards banquet accepting a cell phone call and talking for two minutes while one of his colleagues was presenting awards. Talk about a good role model. If that was not enough, the same cell phone owner received another call when he was at the podium giving out his awards.

What is so important about these people that they can’t miss a phone call? I would ask public cell phone users the following: Do you have a pet, child or parent on life support? Is your wife expecting within the next week? Are you the director of homeland security? If the answer is no, it’s time to turn the dang thing off.

I realize superintendents need to know at times about emergencies, and a cell phone can be useful for this purpose. The way I figure it, a school leader’s ability to leave the district office to staff is directly proportional to the quality of staff and the confidence one has in them.

Hearing Issues
And then there’s the Bluetooth — the single most ridiculous looking piece of communications equipment I’ve ever seen. The first time I saw one, I almost laughed out loud. I watched this guy talking to himself while looking out a window. When he turned his head in my direction, I noticed this pointed automatic car-door opener wrapped around his ear. I was relieved to find out he was just using this strange attachment to connect to his cell phone.

If you have to stay that connected, maybe you need to take the next step and have the device implanted into your ear. Then at least you won’t look like a fool.

The most outrageous use of a Bluetooth belongs to a guy in the waiting room at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences Hearing and Audiometry building. As he enters the room he is talking loudly because he can’t hear the outside world over his Bluetooth conversation. Almost everyone in the room notices the goofy thing in his ear because he is so loud. Those who don’t hear him need to have their hearing checked.

As we learn his full agenda for the week, he keeps being interrupted by the receptionist. She is trying to talk with him about his appointment at the hearing center. After he says he’ll call back to no one in particular, he tries to check in but has trouble because he can’t hear clearly because of this device in his ear. He apparently is suffering from auditory-rectalitis. This is now a leading cause of poor hearing. At that point I wanted to tell him to take that thing out of his ear and cancel his appointment!

Weird Stuff
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate technology. I am not a Luddite yet. I have a school district-issued cell phone and a personal cell phone to keep the bills separate. I do, however, turn both off for extended periods of time without loss of self-esteem or feeling disconnected to the world around me. In fact, I often feel more connected to people and to life itself. I just don’t like weird newfangled technology that is intrusive and obnoxious and makes people look funny. I am embarrassed for them.

I am beginning to believe that common sense has become so uncommon that we need to change it to “uncommon” sense. Do you think Thomas Paine would have answered his cell phone in the middle of writing “Common Sense?” It’s a good thing he was not in a room full of administrators with cell phones.

Steve Singleton is superintendent of the Jonesboro Public Schools, 2506 Southwest Square, Jonesboro, AR 72401. E-mail: singletons@ mail.jps.k12.ar.us