Cell phone practices during conference sessions

5:37 pm miscellaneous

As the cell phone has become ubiquitous and has transformed from novelty to necessity, there have been letters to newspaper advice columnists and etiquette experts asking about their use, especially taking calls, in various situations—in public restrooms, while conducting a retail transaction, in theaters, in the middle of a meeting, during conference presentations, etc.

In the past three months I have had the opportunity to observe this at conferences in four countries. These are typical, not universal, behaviors I observed:

  • In Mexico when a cell phone rang the owner usually answered it speaking quietly and left the room as quickly as possible before getting into the conversation. Or silenced the ringing and then checked to see who called and decided whether or not to leave the room to return the call.
  • In Crimea, a province of Ukraine, the owner usually answered the call and quickly left the room. But in a very small number of instances the owner answered the phone and had a conversation at normal voice volume. Or louder—it seems some individuals, regardless of nationality, feel a need to raise their volume to be heard when speaking over any sort of phone. Because nearly 80% of the participants in the conference in Crimea were from Russia, this observations may reflect cell phone etiquette there more than in Ukraine.
  • Behavior in China is similar to Crimea. Most times the owner answered the phone and left the room as quickly as possible. A greater number in China than in Crimea answered their phone and stayed in their seat and conducted their conversation—but always with a very soft voice. A good number silenced their phone as soon as it began to ring. At least one participant initiated a cell phone conversation during a presentation and carried it on in a soft voice.
  • In the United States at the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim I saw the effect of the request made at the start of many meetings and programs that everyone present either turn their cell phones off or set them on vibrate. Either those present just didn’t receive calls or they followed the request. Nevertheless, sometimes phones did ring during sessions. Usually the owner would answer quietly and then leave the room as quickly as possible before getting into the conversation. Or silenced the ringing and then checked to see who called and decided whether or not to leave the room to return the call.

What conclusions can be drawn from this decidedly unscientific four-nation sampling of cell phone behavior during conference sessions? None, really, other than that the opening bars of American pop music are the cell phone ringtone of choice of many librarians in Mexico, Russia, China, and the United States.

6 Responses

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    I’m finding people are getting better at last at turning their phones off. Either that or more ‘blockers’ are being deployed.

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