Jesse Walker has a nice piece in Reason magazine about whether U.S. state agencies like the FCC should ban cinemas from trying to jam calls to mobile phones. Seems a pretty clear-cut case to me – so long as the jamming is made clear to customers before they buy a ticket, then the cinemas, if they are commercial entities and privately owned, are entitled to do this. Cinemas that are privately owned can set whatever rules on the behaviour of customers that they like, including telling them, on pain of expulsion, to turn mobiles off or to silent, to observe minimal standards of dress code, and whatever.
In my own cinema-going experience in Britain and the United States, I have hardly ever been inconvenienced by mobile users, although I may have been lucky. Once, in a stifling hot cinema in Chelsea, I sat next to a rather annoying French couple, one of whom insisted on phoning her friends several times and who finally shut up after another customer told them to do so. Most people seem to get the message to turn the things off or to silent mode.
I guess what this story tells us is how people are almost surgically attached to their phones (one day that may literally be true, perhaps in a few decades time). I have occasionally gone out from my flat without a mobile phone and felt almost naked without it, but also experienced a certain freedom of being out of reach for an hour or so. It is almost as if I have forgotten what it is like not to be contactable instantly via these machines.
A final etiquette point is that I notice people are often less punctual for meetings sometimes because there is this assumption in the back of folks’ minds that they can just “phone ahead” and say that they are going to be late. Before mobiles existed, if people did not keep an appointment, it did not happen. Perhaps one side effect of mobile phones then is to make us less rigorous in sticking to a schedule. It is not a good or bad thing, but that seems to be the pattern.