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For many, cellphone no longer for talking

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - An odd thing occurred in homes during a recent flurry of spring elections - the phone rang. Sometimes more than once in an evening.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - An odd thing occurred in homes during a recent flurry of spring elections - the phone rang. Sometimes more than once in an evening.

Nearly all were robo calls, of course. But family members were caught off guard, at first staring at one another about how to handle the jarring intrusion.

On a recent weekday morning, six people stood in line at Starbucks on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., and four were "on" their cellphones. That is, the four were interacting with their phones, performing various tasks, but not one was using the phone as a speaking device.

Remember way back - two or three years ago? - when we shook our heads at loud cellphone conversations by self-important people in public places? The next table at a restaurant, even?

It seems we've fallen silent. We don't actually talk on the phone anymore. But it's more than that: We don't want to talk on the phone. Calling is rude.


That's the feeling Beth Byrd-Lonski gets from business contacts and even some friends.

"They all operate by text and Facebook, in that order," she says.

Byrd-Lonski is a theater producer as well as a professional clown and mime who personally has nothing against one-on-one voice conversations by telephone. But she accepts that it's now frowned upon.

"We want to be doing many more things all at once," she says. "Societal change is driven by technology. When technology changes, the way we operate changes."

But what's so awful about a phone call? Today, a phone call happens generally if it's pre-arranged. That's practically a rule in business circles but also holds sway among acquaintances.

If Byrd-Lonski wants to talk over details of a performance, she doesn't call an artist outright. A message by text, Facebook or email is the first step: "When would be a good time to call?"

Darrel Wingo, owner of the Knotty Rug Co. in Kansas City, Kan., says he noticed that soon after most of his business interactions switched to text and email messages - a great convenience and time-saver - so did much of his personal communication.

"More friends do texting to make the initial contact," he says.


There is a frustration with texting that can require a phone call, but talking is a last resort: "If you're trying to explain something, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and make the call," Wingo says.

Phones that were once busy with voices, then texts, are now tied up for any number of reasons. The queued-up folks at the coffee shop?

"They're checking the Internet, email, their investments and looking at the New York Times front page," says Cathy Corey, a Kansas City area etiquette expert.

From an etiquette standpoint, Corey doesn't mourn the passing of loud public phone conversations at every turn.

"Praise God for texting in the airport," she says.

Making appointments to talk later by phone has always been appropriate, she says, as has the choice not to answer the phone just because it rings. "But you do have to return the call," she says.

Unfortunately, focusing on a device in public offers new opportunities for loutish behavior. Attending to your phone can be as uncaring as barking into it, Corey says.

"It's about treating people with honor, dignity and respect," she says, "and we're not honoring people when we're constantly messing with our phones while we're with other people."

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