My father-in-law Ron likes to call himself Jethro on occasion. This is done in honor of Moses’ father-in-law who (Ron is always glad to remind me) gave wise counsel to his needy son-in-law. As such, he delights in correcting me on matters of etiquette and grammar. If my elbows are on the table at mealtime or I say “The time went quick” instead of “quickly,” I’m sure to hear about it. Though it has always been done in good humor, as a young man I have to admit it rather annoyed me. Yet these days I get a kick out of it and am even thankful for it, as I also have to admit that I now speak more deliberate. Or is that “deliberately?”
Anyway, call me Jethro if you must, but many of you need to learn some etiquette yourself when it comes to the cell phone, and I am here to offer it. For UCPS (Ubiquitous Cell Phone Syndrome) has changed our culture drastically. Everywhere you go people are interrupting conversations to yak to someone else on their cell phone, running into things as they try to walk and text (or worse yet driving into things!), or giving the appearance they belong in an insane asylum as they talk to an ear bud that only half the people observing them can see. So here’s my small effort to correct the problem. In all seriousness I offer the following as some guidelines for proper cell phone etiquette.
First of all, get a grip. Too many people, especially young ones, act as if their cell phone is a hot line to the White House. Every single time the things rings, beeps or vibrates, they interrupt all conversation or forget anyone else is around to answer anyone who calls or to check the latest “HT” text message (that means “Hi There” in cell phone text language for my older readers). Get a grip! If you miss a call, you will live. Quit acting like you are having a seizure as you hurriedly try to get your phone out of your pocket or purse. Control the phone. Don’t let it control you.
Honor the conversation you are already in. To text or answer your phone in the midst of conversation is to be rude, like letting a little kid burst in and interrupt a conversation every minute or two. Don’t kid yourself into thinking the others with you do not see the frequent checking and semi-hidden texting you are doing. If you are in a conversation or group and the phone rings, you are not obligated to answer it. Is that not why you have voice mail? If you are expecting an important call, let those with you know and then ask permission or excuse yourself to answer it.
Turn it OFF in worship and important meetings. Yes, I know you can set it to vibrate so the ring does not disrupt everyone else in the sanctuary, office or classroom. But the vibration still disrupts you and your ability to concentrate. If you feel that buzz in your pocket while listening to a sermon, you are going to wonder who it is and struggle with the urge to check. How can you then do that and at the same time be loving God with all your heart in the sanctuary? How can you give your full attention to the lecture in the classroom while texting? Sure, if you are a doctor on call you need to answer. But so many of us are demonstrating with how we use our cell phones an empty self-importance (maybe we should call them “self phones”?).
Avoid godless chatter and endless gossip. The ability to communicate easily increases the temptation to justify ungodly behavior. God’s command to “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear it” may not be listed on your Verizon of Cingular bill, but it is still part of the package for you. If we were to take a recording of your last week’s cell phone conversations and make them a public record for parents, elders and even the friends you were talking about to hear, would you be ashamed? Well, they may not be listening to your conversations, but God is and will judge you accordingly.
Parents, keep tab. And young people, welcome this. When I was young, and I wanted to communicate with friends, I had to call their home with the likelihood being great that my friend’s parents would know we were on the phone. They often answered! Today, in too many cases young people can carry on secret conversations with who knows whom without parental knowledge. As a result, the immature are developing inappropriate intimacy at too young an age and too quickly. In some cases this has ended in tragedy. Waiting until the child has shown appropriate maturity before allowing them their own cell phone, discussing their conversations, asking them to show their call logs occasionally, scanning your phone records for strange or oft-repeated numbers, removing privileges over infractions, etc., are means parents must employ to train their children in this powerful technology. Young people, the Proverbs exhort you to give your heart to wisdom (1:4), counsel (8:32-33), and your parents (1:8; 2:1; 4:1). You should welcome rather than fight your parents’ input into godly communication skills.
Before I even started writing this, I bet myself that someone had already written “The Ten Commandments of Cell Phone Etiquette,” and lo and behold, Google proved me right. So you can go there for another’s opinion. But remember, I’m acting here as Jethro giving counsel, not as Moses giving laws. And besides, I only gave five!