Cell Phones

Posted on December 3, 2011 by


Not to sound like an old man, but back in my day we didn’t have cell phones in classes.

I guess by the time I got to high school, some of us had pagers. We called them “beepers” because they would beep when we got a page. The page would basically be a string of numbers. Typically this would be a phone number, but it could also be some other message – for instance, “143” meant “I love you” (because of the number of characters in each word) and “07734” meant “hello” (try typing it into a calculator and looking at it upside-down) – although the utility of paging someone with “hello” is of course dubious. Anyway, sorry, that’s sort of a random tangent to go off on…

So we didn’t have cell phones at all. My aunt had a car phone at some point, which was the first “mobile” phone anyone in my family ever had, in the sense that it wasn’t tied to a landline. So we couldn’t bring cell phones to class, since we didn’t have them, and even if we did get a page while in class it’s not like we’d be all that distracted for all that long by a string of numbers that spells “hELL0” when you hold it upside down.

But now it’s the future, and of course we do have cell phones, and the entire world has had a chance to develop cell phone etiquette at basically the same time, so it’s not like the use of cell phones has some sort of deep-seated traditional roots, which is why it is incredibly surprising to me that cell phone use in Georgia is so dramatically different than cell phone use in the US.

In the US, teachers and professors generally request that cell phones be kept silent or off during class. When I was in college, it would have been extremely surprising for a student to take a call during class, although on occasion someone might run out of the room to take a call if it was particularly important. A teacher would never take a call him or herself, unless they were an extremely unorthodox teacher. Our phones have a special “meeting” mode that makes no noise at all, under the assumption that if you are in a meeting, you will not want to take a phone call.

In Georgia, any time the cell phone rings, the person takes the call. Students and teachers take calls in class. Businesspersons and officials take phone calls while in official meetings. There seems to be no trouble whatsoever about doing this – something that in the US would be considered shockingly rude is completely normal and commonplace and accepted here.

It’s odd.

And of course students bring their phones in and play music (on their headphones) or play games, and the teachers sometimes stop them and sometimes don’t, and I can’t even imagine myself showing up to a high school class with my Discman and throwing on some Nirvana instead of listening to my teacher, because having headphones in is so obvious and so disrespectful, but these kids have mp3 players on their phones and so they come to class and use them. The teachers take calls during class, which of course completely fails to set a positive example.

I don’t know. I mean, to me it seems pretty obvious that taking calls during business – during a business meeting, or a class, or a private lesson – is a waste of time for the person you are doing business with, and in business, time is money, which is why in the US, where we’re very concerned with money, we don’t take phone calls while doing business. In Georgia, on the other hand, capitalist-style professionalism hasn’t quite taken hold, and so people just drop whatever they’re doing to pick up the phone.

Does anyone else have this experience in their day-to-day lives?