Can't We All Just Get Along (Online And In The Air)?
Manners, or rather, the lack of them, have been all over our news pages the last two weeks. The topics covered won't surprise anyone, although the proposed remedies might. And yet when all is said and done, what's really needed isn't some time-consuming legal maneuver or more reams of survey data, but rather a dose of good old common sense served up with a dollop of common courtesy.
Manners, or rather, the lack of them, have been all over our news pages the last two weeks. The topics covered won't surprise anyone, although the proposed remedies might. And yet when all is said and done, what's really needed isn't some time-consuming legal maneuver or more reams of survey data, but rather a dose of good old common sense served up with a dollop of common courtesy.Take the battle over in-flight cell phone use.
Cell phone makers rushed this week to refute a study making the rounds from Carnegie Mellon that suggested cell phones were a flight safety risk. The vendors want to make sure everyone knows that the data that study was based on revolved around three-year-old technology--many lifetimes ago in the fast-changing world of mobile communications. Yeah, sure, fine, but the thing is, nobody cares. I don't know anyone who really believes using your cell phone during a flight will interfere with navigational controls, etc. (Eyes rolling here.)
What the flight crews and passengers are objecting to is the increasing lack of common courtesy that sadly seems to go hand-in-hand with some people's use of mobile technology. We simply don't trust our fellow passengers to keep phone use to a minimum, or to keep it down. We object to having the role of eavesdropper forced upon us. Multiply that by a planeload of digitally connected people, and it's not hard to figure out the real fear here.
They don't have a prayer of getting that exemption, of course; federal law and FCC rules prohibit the use of cell phone jammers. But the real issue here isn't the request, but the incredibly boorish behavior that spurred it. To quote John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, "I don't know what's going on with consumers that they have to talk on phones in the middle of theaters." Amen, brother.
People go to movies, the theatre, and concerts today and behave as if they're in their own living rooms or, worse, out at a bar. The loud, drunken singing over the musicians, the endless food and alcohol runs, the nonstop back and forth climbing over everyone in the row, the smokers, the running commentary on the concert--are all bad enough. Throw in the people who whip out their cell phones at the opening note and talk throughout the entire concert, play, or movie, and my sympathies lie with anyone who snaps.
The breaking news for the idiots is this: Shut up or leave. For the venues, the solution is just as simple--don't ignore the patrons who complain or undertake some quixotic quest before Congress. Get off your duff and eject the boors. Problem solved.
Speaking of quixotical quests, did you catch the story about a New Jersey lawmaker's attempt to legislate civility in Internet discussion forums? I'm all for polite discourse, but Assemblyman Peter Biondi and his staff need to get a grip--and an education. They admittedly aren't too tech-savvy, but they ought to be plenty knowledgeable about the right to freedom of speech. And they might want to take note of a recent ruling by the Delaware Supreme Court. That court ruled in favor of a group of anonymous bloggers in a defamation suit, saying in essence that free speech trumps defamation.
Biondi's bill, which he's supposedly reconsidering now that he's been inundated with outraged E-mail, wants to force people to provide their real names and addresses before posting online. Hosting sites that failed to disclose the identities of people disseminating false or defamatory information could be sued if the bill passed.
Never mind that the Internet is impossible to monitor on that scale, and that such a law would be difficult to enforce. We already have laws against slander and defamation. And, as Delaware Chief Justice Myron Steele pointed out, blogs and chatrooms tend to be vehicles for people to express opinions, not facts. More importantly, online readers have the option of not going to sites that host commentary they find offensive. Moreover, there are times when being able to respond anonymously is, in fact, a good thing.
Any way you look at it, Biondi's bill is stupid. The outraged netizens can relax though--it's not passable because it's just not doable. A better use of everyone's energy might be to expend a bit more effort to keep our use of personal and mobile technologies, not to mention participation on the Internet, on a courteous path. Meanwhile, when in doubt about the impact of your technology use on those around you, either move away or disarm!
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