Likewise, in the streets and in the London Underground, although virtually everyone you saw had a cell phone glued to his or her ear, there was virtually none of the shouted broadcasting of personal or business conversations that have unfortunately become difficult--if not impossible--to avoid in the United States. Instead, cell phone users seemed determined to be only seen, not heard. And in museums and restaurants, discreet signs stating firmly that cell phone use was off-limits were scrupulously obeyed.
When I asked our hostess why the British seemed to have a more highly developed sense of social appropriateness regarding cell phone use, she replied simply, "It's a matter of survival. We'd all kill each other otherwise."
I wondered at that until I looked at the numbers. Although U.S. cell phone penetration has surpassed 70 percent of all adults, internationally there are now more than 30 countries where the number of cell phones exceed the overall population. In the United Kingdom, for example, in 2006, 110 percent of the population now owns cell phones. But this pales in comparison to Aruba (150.8 percent), Israel (126 percent) and Italy (122 percent). Because cell phone use took off much more quickly overseas than in the United States--largely due to less-developed infrastructure for wired communications--such societies have presumably had more time to develop guidelines for mobile manners. Indeed, a reporter for the International Herald Tribune newly stationed in Japan found no less than four books devoted to mobile phone etiquette in her local bookstore.
Whatever the reason, it was refreshing to see a concerted cultural effort being made to socially adjust to a new technology--something we absolutely need to work on over here.
What have been your experiences? If you travel overseas, have you noticed a difference in how cell phone users behave? Let us know by responding to the InformationWeek blog.