Too much public and semi-public space – sidewalks, doctors’ offices, grocery store aisles – has been taken over by people talking VERY LOUDLY on their cell phones. The rest of us don’t want to hear these conversations, but smacking the phone out of the person’s hand isn’t acceptable social behavior. Plus, the phones are so small now that you could easily smack the person instead and be charged with assault.
A Sept. 17, 2010, article in Science News online discusses a recent study that shows the background chatter of cell phone users distracts people around them, making the reluctant listeners lose their focus on whatever they are doing. For example, it’s possible that a passenger’s cell phone conversation may distract the driver of the vehicle enough to impair his or her driving (Bowers, 2010).
Loud cell phone conversations in public places are thus not just annoying, but potentially a serious problem that needs to be investigated and remedied.
I will conduct a brief literature review of the effects of cell phone use on talkers and listeners, including research into why people talk louder when using a cell phone and why their one-sided conversations can be so distracting. I will look for studies that address modifying behavior, so that people don’t talk so loudly on their cell phones.
I will apply communication theories such as the coordinated management of meaning, social learning theory, and social exchange theory to this problem. The result will be a mechanism – such as a public service campaign using new media – to raise people’s awareness of the dangers and rudeness of talking loudly on a cell phone in a public place. The ultimate goal is to change people’s behavior.