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Is the Cellular Industry "Tone Deaf"?

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Yesterday afternoon, a NYC area college classmate sent me a link to a post entitled “.Wild Night at Philharmonic After Phone Interruption” from the WQXR Blog.

Last night, in one of the quietest parts of the final movement of a gorgeous New York Philharmonic performance of Mahler's Ninth, a cell phone started ringing ... and ringing, and ringing, and ringing. Alan Gilbert, who was on the podium in Avery Fisher Hall, glared in the direction of the phone, but it kept right on going. Then, the music got louder, and we all assumed that whoever owned the phone had done something about it. But minutes later, when the music got softer again the phone was still going (an iPhone marimba ringtone, which sounds like this):

So Gilbert stopped the performance. He then turned around and indicated that the phone should be turned off. It continued. The conductor then said to the phone’s owner, who was sitting in the front, “You have a phone... Fine, we’ll wait.” And we did, with audience members standing up, pointing in the direction of the offender, and shouting things like “Throw him out!” When the phone was finally silenced, Gilbert turned to the audience to apologize.

As of the posting of this item here, the WQXR Blog had 159 comments on this event - not many praising the cellular industry. One of the comments (#322191) stated,

“It's about time someone took a stand on cellphone protocol. What is so hard about turning it off when requested at a concert. I'm surprised no one has invented a way to check for all cellphones turned on. BRAVO Mr. Gilbert!!!!! I applaud your actions!”

The picture at the top of this post is from yesterday’s NBC Nightly News which did a piece on the event. But the incident has gone viral on the Internet! The Google search at right shows “About 1,440,000 results” on the incident - although a few of those are actually unrelated due to quirks of searching on Google.

On December 27th, your blogger posted “Some Possible New Year's Resolutions for the Cellular Industry” which included “Social harmony and cell phone use” as item #2. This built on a February 2010 post entitled “Cellphones and Interpersonal Friction”. The 2/10 post, for example, described the Japanese “Manners Mode” built into every cell phone sold in Japan that makes it easy and uniform to disable ring tones - hit the # key! This was not a Japanese government mandate, rather a voluntary standard of the Japanese cell phone industry. Since basically the same suppliers market cell phones in Japan as in the US, one would think that it would be possible here also.

The cell phone industry is united against legalizing jamming, but seems unable to do anything about antisocial cell phone usage that inevitably leads to interest by concert halls and restaurants in cellular jamming. As previously stated here, French national law explicitly permits cellular jamming in concert halls. While jamming in such urban locations inevitably will cause other problems and is thus a bad idea (as opposed to jamming in isolated maximum security prisons where the geometry is very different), there seems to have been little interest in the cellular industry in alternative approaches to minimize the antisocial aspects of cell phone use.

The cell phone industry is usually a positive contributor to US society and the US economy. But it continues to have some blind spots as outlined in the previous New Year's Resolutions post here. Maybe it should address them? Maybe FCC leadership should politely point out these issues from time to time and mention the possible impact of neglect?

I have asked CTIA to comment on the “Mahler incident” and will promptly post any reply.


As you can see from the above YouTube video from a concert in Slovakia, the Mahler/marimba incident was not unique. We patiently await comment from the cellular industry about these incidents and what they are doing to decrease the incidence rate. We know the US cellular industry hates all jamming, any other ideas?
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