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Cell Phones Will Stay Off On Planes; Now, Let's Keep Them Off the Can

For all its other indignities, at least commercial airline travel isn't subject to the racket of random strangers yammering away on their cell phones. Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission moved to keep it that way. It voted (PDF) to drop a proposal that would have allowed some use of mobile phones on aircraft.

That's a wonderful decision. Planes are noisy enough without the people behind or next to you recounting last weekend's escapades or griping about their job. Plus, it's fundamentally healthy to unplug every now and then from your usual telecom tether.

But the FCC should have tackled another area of cell-phone abuse: public bathrooms.

I don't mean to be crude, but this is a serious problem, far worse than BlackBerrying at the dinner table. Too many guys have no problem flipping open their phones to chat when they're standing at a urinal or sitting in a stall--at a bar, an airport, or a convention center. Even, I'm dismayed to admit, the Post's newsroom.

And it's not like any of these calls are remotely urgent. Nobody's blurting out things like "SELL! You've gotta get me out of this stock," "Thank God you finally found a kidney donor!" or "They just found all those e-mails I deleted?" No, these are boring old calls that can and should wait until you're out of the can.

(I don't know if the same thing happens in women's restrooms. Can somebody enlighten me on that?)

This has to stop. Besides the obvious risk of dropping the phone--are you really going to want to hold that thing up to your mouth afterwards?--what do you think this sounds like to the people on the other end of the line? I don't know about you, but if I hear flushing (much less any other... background noises), I'm hanging up.

Somebody, please, tell me I'm not the only one appalled by this.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 4, 2007; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Telecom  
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I was pretty disgusted recently when I walked into a bathroom and saw a guy typing a text message on his phone with one hand as he used the urinal. Surely these things can wait 30 seconds!

Posted by: William | April 4, 2007 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Wow. Just, wow. No, haven't observed this in the women's room, although we also have stalls for everything as opposed to urinals, so who knows...haven't heard anything, though, that I was aware of.

I understand that sometimes bathrooms can be the quietest place in a crowded area if and only if the bathroom itself is deserted, but during actual use of the facilities? C'mon....

Besides, who wants to hear my conversation while on the throne?

I believe the operative words here are "excuse me, something has come up I'll call you right back," unless of course it is that kidney donor or it's a doctor who is needed in surgery, stat!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

"unless of course it is that kidney donor or it's a doctor who is needed in surgery, stat!"

I'm sorry, if it's a doctor who is needed in surgery, I'd like them to take time to finish what they're doing and give their hands a really thorough wash afterwards. I don't care how urgent the surgery is.

Posted by: Dave | April 4, 2007 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Thank goodness someone finally spoke out on this important subject. SOMEONE in my office uses his blackberry while sitting on the can. You can hear the little "tic tic tic" coming out of the stall. I do NOT like thinking that I might be on the receiving end of one of those e-mails.

Posted by: Ronnie | April 4, 2007 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I will say that I have seen (or heard as the case may be) this happen in women's bathrooms. It's a little more disconcerting because someone suddenly begins talking loudly in the next stall. As I hear they're half of the conversation I deliberately flush so that hopefully their listener will be as horrified as I am that they are taking a call while "on the throne".

Come on people, let the call got to VM. You should be free and out of the bathroom in 2-3 minutes.

Posted by: Manassas, VA | April 4, 2007 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Agreed. We have voicemail for a reason, it is the modern day assistant that will take an incoming call for you, and if you need to make a call, please wait until you exit the restroom.

Posted by: Rob H. - Alexandria, VA | April 4, 2007 9:54 AM | Report abuse

(I don't know if the same thing happens in women's restrooms. Can somebody enlighten me on that?)

Oh yes- and because you're in a stall and can't see them, sometimes you think they are talking to you and you respond. Awkward. Miss Manners never covered what to do in that situation.

Posted by: Andrea | April 4, 2007 10:13 AM | Report abuse

I have called out a buddy of mine for using the cell in the can after hearing the flush in the background. He acted like I was the unreasonable one for being horrified by his behavior. Of course, he's a lawyer and his life is run by billable hours, so he's got some pretty strange habits already.....he likes to joke that he's 37 years old in calendar years but 55 years old in billable hours.

Posted by: Bob | April 4, 2007 10:16 AM | Report abuse

I say, why not. If you can play a quick game of golf (no pun) on your mobile device then it's your phone, your time, and your hands.

Posted by: Can-is-true | April 4, 2007 11:04 AM | Report abuse

I note in the URL that this article is titled "A No-Fly Zone for Cell Phones". Now that is funny!

Posted by: Dave | April 4, 2007 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Thank you! One of the first times I saw a cell phone (back in the brick days) was in LA...a man talking at the urinal. Then, I "dined out" on the story for quite some time; now it's epidemic.

There are some things I have no desire to hear from the receiving end of a call; up the fiber intake or better yet, wait a few minutes.

Posted by: kidvidkid | April 4, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

i don't mind the texting. at least the person on the receiving end does not know where it is coming from unless the person sign the email by saysing "send by XXXX from his/her throne." LOL.

i think it is tacky and really rude to the person who did not ask to be taken to the bathroom. a simple "i'll call you back." or better yet, let it go to voicemail. what is so urgent that you have to force the person to hear not only you but all the sounds around you. Gross.

what is REALLY gross, is when they are taking a dump and talking at the same time. and you can hear every grunt with every push. GROSSSSSS.

Posted by: Texas | April 4, 2007 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I understand the objection to talking on a cellphone while on the can--the person on the other end of the line can then hear what's going on in the restroom.

But the objection to texting doesn't make any sense to me. In what way is a text message composed in a restroom tainted by the location of the sender?

What if I think of something to say to you while on the can? If when I see you later in another setting and say those words, is that somehow rude because of where I was when I thought them?

Nor do I understand the objection to hearing someone tapping on a keyboard in a restroom. What an innocuous sound compared to the bodily functions one can't help but hear in that setting.

Posted by: Joe | April 4, 2007 11:21 AM | Report abuse

I too applaud the FCC for quashing cell phone use in flight. I'm already using ear plugs to reduce the sounds of IPODs and Gameboys around me on a flight. Let's can cell phones in the can too. We need an entire country repeated flushing to send a message to the boors out there who must continually multitask.

Posted by: Mike | April 4, 2007 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Yes, women do use their cell phones in the restroom. It happens all the time at my company. At least three or four times a week, I will walk into one of the restrooms and hear a woman yakking away in the stall. It makes me very uncomfortable.

At my company, we are not supposed to use our cell phones at our desks unless absolutely necessary. So I think these women go to the restroom as an excuse to sit and talk on their phones for 20-30 minutes at a time. Hey, they aren't at their desks so they aren't breaking the rule, right? I've heard all kinds of stories about who is sleeping with who, so and so's grandsons' rash, how much fiber grandma needs and so on. Nice.

I will admit that I have, on occasion, used the phone in the bathroom at my home. But ONLY at my home and ONLY with a close relative on the other end and ONLY after I tell them what I'm doing/about to do and asked if they'd rather I call them back (no number two ever involved!).

Posted by: Ick | April 4, 2007 12:10 PM | Report abuse

and with the number of phones that have cameras as part of them, they need to ban them all together. i dont want to end up on a fag porno site with the heading ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH FOR THIS?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

It happens occasionally in the ladies' room. I wouldn't actually -talk- on the phone in the can... however, I have to confess a certain perverse, juvenile joy in having emailed my boss (whom I despised) from an airport toilet on more than a few occasions.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Hopefully the Post will promptly remove the 4/4/07 12:24 PM comment.

Now for my comments: I find a lot offensive about using cell phones as phones in the john, but I have no trouble with the use of them as email/SMS/gaming/calendar devices in there, as long as they don't interfere with the business at hand, of course (which really applies everywhere).

Posted by: Left of the Pyle | April 4, 2007 12:37 PM | Report abuse

12:24 PM -- was that really necessary?

Jeez, this is the second time in a week I've been reading the comments on some article and come across homophobic hate speech. Get over yourselves, people.

Posted by: James | April 4, 2007 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I feel fortunate that I have decent impulse control, because it's all I can do to avoid kicking open the stall door, grabbing the phone and yelling "HE CAN'T TALK RIGHT NOW, HE'S TAKING A DUMP!" Then tossing the infernal device in the next open bowl.

Posted by: Adam | April 4, 2007 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I have had the displeasure to be on the phone with someone who was using the can. It was a customer, so I couldn't hang up. I heard ALL of the noises, not just the flushing. It was repulsive!

Not sure it is a matter for federal regulation though...

Posted by: MarkJ | April 4, 2007 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Ha - Adam, I like how you think. I've never heard this in a women's bathroom...or maybe I've just blocked the memory. Certainly never in a women's bathroom at my company.

Posted by: h3 | April 4, 2007 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Washington Post, delete the 4/4/07 12:24 PM comment. Why is there no report abuse button?

I hate to agree with anything that person has to say, but the fact that so many phones come with cameras does make me uneasy when I see them in the bathroom.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Everybody has to use the bathroom. Everybody can wait while you do.

There is no reason to multi-task in the bathroom.
You go, you leave, then you talk.

It's so easy to call somebody back; you don't even have to type in the number!

Posted by: Robbie | April 4, 2007 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Someone talking on the phone in the ladies bathroom is a problem, especially when you are waiting for a stall to become available.

Posted by: California | April 4, 2007 4:56 PM | Report abuse

It is incredibly disgusting to use a phone in the bathroom but still can be humorous. On a recent camping trip I took we had stopped at a walmart for food on the way to the trail and I ran into the bathroom quickly before we had to leave. While in there I heard someone in a stall's phone go off. He answered it and began talking. When he realized I was in the bathroom with him he started asking to get off the phone:
"Mom, I need to go."
" No mom, seriously I need to go."
"I can't explain it is important. I have to go."
"Look mom, I am in the bathroom and their are other people here. I need to go."
It was all I could do from doubling over with laughter. The guy was so imbarrassed.

Posted by: that guy | April 4, 2007 5:37 PM | Report abuse

I remember hearing a guy in a restaurant "parenting by phone" at the urinal. "Did you do your homework, honey? How was school?" etc etc. That struck me as particularly unseemly.

Posted by: Tony | April 4, 2007 11:13 PM | Report abuse

Of course people have the right to use their cell phones on airplanes. And in the bathroom, too - seriously, what is wrong with you people?

The march of wireless communications technology since the 1980s which has enabled people to be directly contactable by voice, without having to stay within ringing distance of a telephone line, has been a major advance in our quality-of-life, one that furthermore has been denied us on airliners for decades on spurious technical grounds that have always had more to do with the airlines' desire to charge highway-robbery rates on the provided air-to-ground telephones. You, me, any of us who pays for the required equipment and network service has the right to contact and be contacted by others almost anywhere - but certainly in those environs where other people may find such contacting annoying or distasteful.

The key here is "annoying," "distasteful," when the criterion that should prohibit people from doing what they want and have paid to be able to do necessarily involves behavior that actually *harms* another person. I myself agree that the prospect of cell phone use on an airline by someone in a neighboring seat is a pretty annoying one. (Sorry, I can't help but regard such use in bathrooms as merely humorous.) But I feel the same way about an airborne neighbor who, shall we say, emits foul gas, or even (especially!) coughs and sneezes. We really rather expect that that sort of thing shouldn't happen. If it does nonetheless, you'd probably be correct in considering the perpetrator somewhat of a boor - but neither you nor we have any right to outlaw such behavior. If we think that we do, then by all means let's carry on to haul nose-pickers in front of a firing-squad post-haste - that's gross!

I'm writing this from Amsterdam, where I live in a mother-hen country that won't even allow you to ride a Segway until the government is done many months from now with it's own study as to whether they're really safe - yet then I get to read all these comments from (presumably) American Washington Post readers eager to impose their own Big Brother standards on others? Mike of April 4/11:28 AM, you already mention the earplugs you use that enable you to tune out. Fantastic - it follows then that the guy on the phone next to you, doing what he has the right to do, adds little-to-zero marginal annoyance, yes? Rob, you say you find airplanes "noisy enough" - maybe Mike has some earplugs he can lend you. And you opine that "it's fundamentally healthy to unplug every now and then"? How about if you simply leave tghe decisions about my proper relations to my electronic tools to me? I say again: I actually have the right to receive via an airborne telephone call that piece of information that is vital for me to know prior to my arrival - or for that matter, to hear from my aunt who wants to chat, although if I have any couth I'll quickly explain to her where I am and ask to talk later instead.

The most disappointing aspect of all of this issue is how, when given the opportunity to contemplate the proper relationship between group and individual rights, this whole discussion in the thread of comments degenerated into a "let me tell you about my own grody talking-in-the-bathroom experience" farce. (Credit to MarkJ of April 4 and his "Not sure . . ." comment, though.) Rob, didn't you have some idea of your readership, that if you were to pose the issue it would ultimately come down merely to this? I guess not - this blog is relatively new, after all. Well, now you do.

Posted by: MAO | April 5, 2007 9:51 AM | Report abuse

reading this while in Starbucks..trying to stifle my laughing so people don't think i'm totally nuts..being from the mile high city...was wondering if these multi-tasking freaks can (no pun intended) attempt to become members of the ubiquitous "mile high club" at the same time?

Posted by: denver bob | April 5, 2007 10:52 AM | Report abuse

I just keep flushing away when someone is on the phone in the john.
It has yet to have any effect on them.

Posted by: Unindicted Co-conspirator | April 9, 2007 8:54 PM | Report abuse

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