Sunday, August 03, 2008

Cell Phones and Bookstores

I realize that bookstores are not libraries and that the same limits on loud talking that govern well-run libraries do not apply to bookstores. However, since bookstores and libraries generally draw "customers" from the same crowd, common sense tells most of us that loud talking in the bookstore aisles is frowned upon by all but the rudest among us.

This letter to the editor
of the Washington Post got me to wondering if that kind of thing bothers others as much as it does me. Apparently, it does bother the heck out of Rockville's Denny Freezer.
To Washington-area bookstore owners who may wonder why they're losing market share, I offer a suggestion: no discernible cellphone policy.

I love books, and I used to love the look, feel and smell of bookstores. But now, with the exception of some independent bookstores that do discourage cellphone use, it's no longer fun to look for books in a bookstore. It's very hard to get acquainted with a book when there's a constant stream of people roaming by while yakking on their cellphones.

Why they want to be in a bookstore anyway is beyond me; look around next time you're on Metro -- if you see someone reading a book, it's probably me. Most others have no need to carry a book because they're either yakking on their cellphones or carefully studying their screens for inspiration.

There are no cellphones to contend with when I shop for books on the Web!


I know it's hopeless to expect that people who are oblivious enough to shout into their cell phones in public places will ever see themselves as the asses they are, but I do wonder what the rest of you "normal" people think. Does it bug you, too?


  1. I could rant for days about cellphones and the boors who use them publicly but I'll keep this short. I wish they'd never been invented, the cellphones AND the boors.

  2. I was at my local Borders the other day with both people yakking on their cellphones and chattering at full volume with each other across the aisles.

    Even if hushed voices are apparently a distant historical relic, how on earth am I supposed to be able to remember an author's last name when I'm being regaled as to the sex life/paternal conflicts/sibling rivalry of the IDIOT PEOPLE WHO CAN'T KEEP THEIR VOICES DOWN next to me?


    Glad to see you back online!

  3. I second Corey's comment! I can't stand cell phones. I neither need to know, nor want to know anyone's personal business. But for some reason, they feel the need to share all their dirty laundry with the whole world. I would love to see them banned in most public places, but I would definitely settle for a reprieve from this rudeness in our sacred bookstores.

  4. They certainly annoy me as a customer, but they annoy me even more as a bookseller. They'll ask for help and then chat on their cell while I'm trying give them help or ring up their purchases. And if I ask them a question, they look at me like I'm the rude one. Ticks me off every time.

  5. I'm the mother of 4 children. When they were teenagers, I was eternally grateful for the cell phone. When my two daughters went to Europe last summer for a month alone and their father bought them I-phones, I was able to sleep at night.

    As for the bookstore scenario, there's also the restaurant scenario (what is so difficult about putting your phone on vibrate), theater scenario, stand in line at the bank's endless.

    I think I've been programmed. I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday. I'm so used to the "solo chatter", I don't notice it anymore.

    I think there's a great idea for a book here. The Miss Manners Guide to Cell Phone Etiquette.

    Most adults will need to read it, and then pass it on to their children. I can't have a conversation with my 14 year old step-daughter without her having her cellphone, which at this point might as well be surgically attached as an extra digit, beeping every other second with a new text or phone call.

    I will also admit that I have been guilty of being one of those rude people.

    We need new 12 step groups--this is a national addiction and our lives have become unmanageable.

  6. Wouldn't it be great if some device was invented to scramble all mobile signals inside the shop rendering them useless. Maybe just leave the vibrate working and they would have to leave the shop to answer it.
    I work in a theatre box office and loads of people answer or phone others while you are serving them. You have to sit there while they discuss what they are cooking for dinner with a family member while you wait to continue the transaction, regardless of the queue. So rude.

  7. I think Leah's solution is a great one. Somebody needs to invent and market that device! And the first place to put it is in the bookstore.

  8. I'm with Corey on this one. I wonder why people find cell phones so hard to live without for 5 minutes in a row considering that 10 years ago the majority of us were able to wait until we got home to use our land lines...

    I'm finding bookstores to be louder places generally these days, however, with the music blasting out of stereo speakers vying for dominance with the wanksters on their phones.

    I miss Frog Hollow Books in Halifax, NS where, in their previous location, all the booksellers whispered and so then did the customers!

  9. Absolutely! It's just plain rude. I've even seen people steadily talking on their cell phones while a clerk is trying to ring up their purchases.

  10. I just ignore people and their cell phone conversations, just as I would politely ignore someone having a loud conversation with his girlfriend or mother or whatever in the aisle next to me.

    I don't see that it's so very different.

  11. Sherry, it's primarily a difference in volume. Cell phone speakers aren't the easiest thing to hear through, and much like a hard-of-hearing person, cell phone listeners tend to speak louder than normal into their phones assuming that the person on the other end is also having a problem hearing the conversation.

  12. Corey, I held off climbing on the cell phone bandwagon for years but was finally talked into getting one by my wife. I have one now and probably use it all of four times a month for a minute or two at a time.

    It comes in handy sometimes, but it's not a toy that I have to play with all the time.

    I'm sick of hearing blowhards talk into phones in an attempt to impress those around them.

  13. Carrie, the day of common sense and good manners in public seems to be long gone. That's the main reason I see so few movies in theaters these's not worth the irritation.

  14. Jen, I sincerely believe that those folks desperately need to draw attention to themselves because that's about the only way they will get any.

  15. That must be tough to take, Annie. I suppose that I'm not really cut out for retail because I would have a hard time with that kind of behavior.

  16. Mary, cell phones are addictive, especially to young people. To me, they are just another tether to the office that makes it impossible to escape work. I just don't see the attraction to use the darn things as "entertainment." They are a tool and people need to realize that private conversations should remain private because the rest of us really don't give a hoot about them and their friends.

    I'm sure I've ticked off a few folks when I get a phone call at the wrong moment...but I am always conscious of where I am and try to limit the damage.

  17. Leah, those devices already exist.

    When I lived in London, some of the restaurants there supposedly had installed them in the dining rooms so that there would be no disturbances from cell phones.

    I almost bought a portable version of the thing to use in libraries, train stations and the like but chickened out because they are illegal in this country and would probably have made me liable for some kind of damage claim, if caught.

  18. Jeane, check the can order one from the U.K., last time I looked, anyway.

  19. Great points, dreamqueen. The dumbing down of the world continues at a frightening pace, doesn't it?

  20. Lisa, that's what Annie was saying, too...and she's a bookseller in a major bookstore.

  21. Oblivious Cellphone Usage bothers the hell out of me at both the library and the local bookstore. And on the train and walking at the beach at 6:30 in the morning and ...

    The rudest example: A tall well dressed woman brings two books to the counter , slaps them down. My co-worker looks at her expectantly. She impatiently taps them with a long red fingernail. R asks in her impeccable British accent "Would you like to buy those?" Customer taps louder and it was downhill from there.

    At the library we finally had to put up universal "no phone" signs so the staff had something to point to when patrons start chatting in the stacks. Fortunately it's an old building and the reception is lousy, though that frequently just makes them talk louder.

    Is there a solution to this? Maybe we can buy something at one of those Spy Shops that would block signals. Or confiscate them at the door. Honestly, talking to your real estate broker, or your lover, can wait 5 minutes.

    Really enjoy your blog!

  22. Callie, (said in my best Bill Clinton voice) I feel your pain.

    I'm afraid, though, that the cat is out of the bag now and it is just about too late to re-train people in proper cell phone usage. We missed our chance to set standards when they first appeared on the scene and now they users have developed a "culture" of their own that will be hard to change...unless some entity hits them in the pocketbook for using their phones where they are cars, libraries, etc.

    Thanks for the kind words about the blog...much appreciated.