Mumbai: 'Public displays of technology' have been steadily on the rise in urban India, with people taking long business calls on their honeymoon, and answering their phones inside bathrooms. Should Indian parents consider dispensing a lesson in phone manners with toilet training?

We have all faced it. We're sitting in a movie hall, and suddenly, a phone rings. An insensitive bloke bawls into the phone. Those around start hushing him. Someone with a booming voice lets loose a barrage of curses, and the next thing you know, the crowd has turned violent and is beating the offender to a pulp.

All right, that last bit hasn't happened yet; at least, as far as we know. But you wish it would, don't you?
So does 65 per cent of the American public.
A survey conducted by research company Ipsos through December 2010, and sponsored by Intel Corporation, has revealed that 9 out of 10 Americans have seen people misuse mobile technology, while 65 per cent report their top pet peeve is witnessing people talk loudly in public places. More than 75 per cent believe that mobile manners have worsened since 2009.

Why do they think that? Because 'public displays of technology' have been steadily on the rise, with people taking long business calls on their honeymoon, and answering their phones inside bathrooms, causing many to worry that mobile etiquette, too, is being flushed down the drain.

In a country with the fastest growing mobile phone user population -- as of December 31, 2010, there were 752.19 million subscribers in India -- we've got as much to worry as the Americans.

For 26 year-old Mumbai business analyst Varun Sharma, people who answer calls in movie theatres deserve a good licking. "They refuse to keep their phones on silent in a cinema. What's more, they answer calls and talk as if the rest of us are interested in their conversation," he says.

While the Intel Corp survey registered the movie theatre as the "new space" of mobile infractions, 74 per cent believed that poor mobile etiquette has created a new form of public rage, very much like road rage.

Graphic designer Keya Banerjee, can see why. "I am surrounded by these horrendous ring-tones in the workplace, that are at their loudest and shrillest. Like car horns, they should be banned, simply for the noise pollution they cause," says the 34 year-old. Loud ringtones also emerged as one of the top peeves in a spot survey we conducted across MiD DAY's offices in Mumbai, New Delhi and Bengaluru, indicating that a similar lack of etiquette is pervasive in India's urban spaces.

The survey also dug into the worst gaffes we've committed. Nearly 42 per cent have answered calls in the bathroom, 80 per cent don't put their phones on silent while having dinner at a restaurant, and more than 70 per cent answer calls or check their phones while sitting around with friends and family.

Divided attention

"I hate it when someone I'm talking to suddenly whips out their Blackberry and starts using BBM, after hearing their phone go 'ping'," says Shruti Mehra, a 26 year-old doctor based in New Delhi, referring to the free Blackberry Messenger service that is popular among Blackberry owners. "Thanks to long work hours, I barely get time with my friends. I wish they'd understand how offensive it is to be at the receiving end of inattentiveness."

Mehra is a Blackberry user, but keeps her phone off when attending to patients. As emails drop into our Blackberrys, and SMSes and phone calls assail us all day and night, we have become 'available' all the time, any time.

This incessant pressure has led to a range of offensive behaviour, primarily because most users aren't educated about mobile phone etiquette, and are often unaware that their actions are offensive to begin with.

To correct that, the Department of Telecommunications India sent a memo to all cellular mobile telephone service licensees in June 2009, asking them to "ensure a supply of literature whenever a customer purchased a mobile handset and procured a SIM card" that taught mobile phone etiquette.

Not using the mobile phone while driving, and switching off the phone in hospitals, airplanes, cinema halls, and places of worship, were two suggestions on the list.

"In public places, the mobile phone user should be considerate to people around him, and should move away (while taking a call), so that others are not forced to listen to personal/business conversations," the memo advised.

Private affairs, public space

"We were in a stationary train at Churchgate station, waiting for it to move. This young girl -- she must have been in her early 20s -- boarded the train while talking on the phone. She seemed furious. As the conversation went on, the decibel levels rose till she was screaming at the person at the other end. The rest of us were stunned. Some of us asked her to calm down, but she didn't listen," says Sarita Singh, a 45 year-old homemaker from Khar, recounting an incident that she witnessed last year.

"That was simply the worst sort of behaviour I've seen," says Singh. "But loud business conversations are most common." While some may argue that work is no excuse for being inconsiderate in public, sociologists in the city believe that the problem lies in people's inability to make a clear distinction between the private and professional aspects of their lives.

"People have taken mobiles phones for granted. They think if they receive a call, they have to take it without excusing themselves. For college kids, as it is for most of us, the phone is used for more than just making calls -- we use it to play games, listen to music, log into Facebook, chat. We've become habituated to the phone, which is why we are unable to discriminate between when to use it, and not," says Professor of sociology at St Xavier's College, Vinita Bhatia.

Which probably makes the observation made by many about couples receiving calls or checking their phone in the middle of love-making, far from surprising. "The simple thumb rule to follow at all times," says Mehra, "is to not offend the people around you."

The big mobile on road menace

5,382
challans were issued by the Delhi traffic police in mobile phone-related offences.

31,99,915
drivers from Bengaluru were caught using their mobile phones while driving last year.

20,226
Mumbaikars were caught using their mobile phones while driving between January 2010 and January 2011.

47.55cr
was recovered in fine from Bengaluru drivers, who were caught using their mobile phones last year. The fine is Rs 100, but often the traffic cop slaps an additional offence like rash/negligent driving or jumping the signal.

(Courtesy: Mid-day.com)