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Super connected

Tamara Miller
Illustration by Amanda Swanson
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The cell phone reception is best by the window near Verity Eisenman’s desk.

Nevermind there’s a sign posted in Eisenman’s office that urges visitors to avoid using their phones inside. The petite human resources employee said she has had her personal space invaded more than a few times by a determined mobile phone user. Picture the actor from the Verizon Wireless commercial, eyes skyward, cell phone smashed into the ear, zipping behind an office desk to ask the question – “Can you hear me now?”

Here’s another question: Is it annoying?

Eisenman just nods and smiles. Tightly.

“I also hate people who cut in front of you when they are on a cell phone, driving,” Eisenman said.

We Americans increasingly need to be in touch all the time. Even in a vacationland like Vail, where the town recently installed wireless Internet – a feature vacationing CEOs no doubt enjoy.

But with the advent of new technology like cell phones and Blackberries came new behaviors like interrupting dinner to take a cell phone call or fiddling with a laptop during a meeting. When it comes to our manners, we tech enthusiasts have become seriously out of touch.

Last summer, a cell phone went off in the middle of a wedding Steve Levine attended. It was an unfortunate annoyance that may have been forgotten eventually by most wedding guests. But Levine is the senior vice president of Synovate, a global marketing research company with offices in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. And the incident really stood out to Levine.

“Does it get any worse than that?” Levine asked. He and his company decided to find out.

What Synovate found is that 70 percent of those interviewed said they had encountered rudeness in connection with cell phone and e-mail use. About one-third has encountered disrespectful technology use several times a week.

Seems that rule about no phone calls during dinner died with the rotary phone.

Blame it on the proliferation of technology.

“My perspective is when technology first came on the scene, I think people that were using it were a little more used to it and it wasn’t quite mainstream,” Levine said. Those new to the technology don’t know how to handle their devices. Instead of turning off the cell phone while at the doctor’s office, they take the incoming call and talk. Loudly.

Cell phones are the focus of most complaints, but PDA (personal digital assistant) devices like the Blackberry are starting to vex the public at large, too. It’s not just the fact that people toy with them at inappropriate times, but we’ve all become a bit too reckless about what we put in e-mails. Rude or inappropriate virtual mail was named as the second most annoying thing to Synovate’s respondents. No. 1? That bane of our e-mail existence, spam.

What people do in their home is one thing. The biggest frustration most have is with loud cell phone conversations in public.

Full Belly nipped the problem in the bud from the beginning. When the Edwards restaurant opened in July 2004 it posted a no cell phone policy in the menus.

Chad Cremonese, co-owner of Full Belly, has seen cell phone use infringe on the restaurant dining experience.

“It’s rude,” he said. “And it can be difficult to work with for the servers and the customers.”

He understands that for some of their customers – out-of-town tourists, in particular – a cell-phone-free zone requires adjustment.

“It’s very commonplace in New York to be on your cell phone while you’re hailing a taxi,” Cremonese said. “But out here, it’s a little bit different.”

People come here to slow down and to get away from the busy bustle of big city life. The way Cremonese sees it, he’s just trying to preserve that experience.

The restaurant isn’t in the business of confiscating cell phones. Rarely has the staff had to ask a customer to take a phone call outside, Cremonese said. Overall, most people are getting the message. They turn their phones off, or leave the restaurant to take a call.

“Cell phones have only been in most people’s hands for 10 years now,” he said. “It’s getting better.”

Other businesses are taking matters into their own hands. Doctor’s offices, even churches and synagogues are posting signs or making announcements. A rabbi officiating a religious service Levine attended reminded the congregation to turn off their cell phones.

Some places are even offering help for those “Crackberry” addicts: Last summer, the Chicago Sheraton hotel began taking away a guest’s cell phone or PDA upon request.

About half of those interviewed said they would “die” without access to e-mail or a cell phone, according to Synovate’s research. That seems strong.

Mike Hilmer, of Eagle, assured that he could survive without his cell phone. But it would be hard for the electrician to work.

Hilmer was fiddling with his Treo – a cell phone-PDA combo device – while eating lunch at the Gore Range Brewery in Edwards. His boss gave him the Treo after Hilmer’s cell phone broke. It’s essential that his work be able to get in touch with him during the day.

“It’s definitely more efficient,” he said. “For work purposes I’m using it everyday.”

His phone works much like a daily planner. He can keep track of his jobs, use Microsoft Outlook to send e-mails, and schedule a reminder to pick up his son from daycare.

The device comes with a miniature keyboard, so Hilmer sends text messages frequently. It’s a good way to keep in touch with his girlfriend during the day.

“It has its pluses,” Hilmer said. “But it still doesn’t replace talking.”

He might take a phone call while eating lunch at the casual Gore Range Brewery, but he would turn it off if he were eating some place nice.

“It does disrupt you,” he said. “I think it’s obnoxious to use it in a public place or when you are in front of other people.”

He has no plans to give his 4-year-old son a cell phone anytime soon.

“I’d like to prolong it as long as possible,” Hilmer said.

Levine has used the results of the survey to enact a few changes of his own. His company urges its employees to recognize when e-mail is a good way to communicate and when it’s not.

“There’s a time for e-mail, and there’s a time not for e-mail, but instead for a face-to-face meeting,” Levine said. “(For example) if you’ve got something that’s sensitive in nature, whether it’s a client, or a personnel thing, or a partner of ours.”

And Levine tries to mind his ps and qs, as well. He’s good about not taking phone calls during dinner. But he admits to playing with his PDA or smart phone – a cell phone with e-mail capabilities – at the dinner table.

“My kid will say, ‘dad, do you really need to be doing that right now?'”

E-mail comments about this article to tmiller@vailtrail.com.


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