Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Of cellphones and jamming

What is the big deal about cell phones? Personally, I hate the damn things. I have one, yes, currently a Samsung Blackjack that I use to keep constantly connected to work. To say I loathe it is putting it gently. I buy a new phone once every three years or so. I couldn't care less about watching video on my phone, listening to music on my phone, or really anything besides making phone calls. And even that I don't do very often.

I suppose I sound old and crotchety, but I don't really care. My phone has come in handy for a few things. It's a great portable GPS device. I constantly use Google Maps on it to find my way around Manhattan south of Union Square. I take pictures of products at stores (that is, when the clerks don't stop me). I check sports scores when I'm not near a TV. But given the choice between a landline and a cell, I choose the landline every time. I can't hear on cellphones (guess being in a band did this to me). And more importantly, unless it's an emergency, I don't really want to be bothered.

But my biggest cellphone pet peeve is anyone using their cellphone obnoxiously in public. You know this person. They have private conversations in public places. Loudly. They use their cellphone while driving. Dangerously. They make unimportant calls on trains, buses or ferries because they're bored. Annoyingly. They text constantly, they walk badly, they have blatant disregard for anything besides their goddamn iPhone/Blackberry/Dash/Chocolate/whatever the hell you want to call it right in front of them.

Decorum is dead and the cellphone is to blame. In New York City, where privacy is an illusion anyway, the only respite from cellhell is the subway. And even that may soon come to an end. So over the weekend I got a cheap thrill from a New York Times article my friend P sent me about cellphone jammers.

We had been talking about them a few months before. We were watching "Mission Impossible" and during the scene of the Eurostar train in the Chunnel I was chortling as Luther used a cellphone jammer to keep Max from downloading the NOC list. P works for a technology think tank so he's always up on the latest breakthroughs. I asked him if there was such a thing as a cellphone jammer. He laughed and said of course. I told him I wanted one to use on Metro North. In the mornings, the passengers were mostly commuters who followed the conductor's announced rules of etiquette -- use your phone in the vestibule and speak quietly. But in the evenings the train was half commuters and half idiots. I liked to sleep on the ride home and without fail I would always have some jerk (usually a woman, I hate to say) who sat next to me and gabbed on her cellphone the entire way home. The only break came in the dead zone of the Grand Central tunnel at the beginning of the trip. And they were usually gabbing about nothing important! Things that could easily be discussed from home by phone, or (gasp!) in person. No baby births. No family members in the hospital. Just bullshit like "this dress was $350" or "OMG so-and-so is such a dick" or "my boss hates me." Sometimes these people were so loud that I could hear them over my music, no matter how loud I made it.

After a year of commuting I lost all sense of etiquette. First I politely asked my benchmates to use the vestibule. Then I started staring at them until they confronted me, at which time I bitched them out. Finally I would just interrupt them and loudly ask them to shut the hell up and save your unimportant bullshit call for later because no one on the train cares and I just want to sleep dammit. I admit, this was pretty lame of me, but I got an odd sense of satisfaction each of the three times I said it. Etiquette is dead too, it turns out.

The NYT article was particularly interesting because I learned that 1) cellphone jammers can be relatively cheap; 2) they are easy to conceal and 3) they are totally illegal. Now that I don't use Metro North as much I'm not as strung out about wanting a jammer, but when the subways are wired I feel like I'd really want one. If we could all agree to use cellphones only in emergencies on the subways for the good of all mankind, I'd be OK. But somehow I doubt that will happen. Utilitarianism is also dead. At least when it comes to cellphones.

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