“Silence your cell phones”

January 14, 2012

Some of you may have read or heard about the unfortunate recent concert at the NY Philharmonic, at which a very soft passage near the end of Mahler’s 9th Symphony was interrupted by a marimba ring tone in the front row. It took a while for the owner of the device to even realize it was his, let alone get it under control, and the conductor actually stopped the performance to wait for the noise to end.

Like just about everyone, my first reaction on reading the story was along the lines of  “%R@$ idiot!!!” Then when I saw the follow-up article (here) I realized that it could  have happened to anyone under similar circumstances: the fellow was using a new iPhone his company had just given him in exchange for his old Blackberry; he did in fact “turn it off” before the concert, but didn’t realize there was an alarm already set to go off even in “silent mode.”

Something similar, though much less dramatic, happened when I got my first cell phone. I’d gone into a meeting, carefully turning the ringer off beforehand; someone called, and sure enough the ringer didn’t ring, but when the person left a message the phone started beeping to let me know I had a message. Why on earth would the designers of the thing not just assume that if I wanted the ringer off, I wouldn’t want any other call-related sounds either?

Since then whenever I’ve gotten a new phone I’ve tried to figure out as soon as possible how to turn off all the sounds it is capable of making, rather than just rely on the most obvious setting on the incorrect assumption that “common sense” applies to the geekocracy. Luckily I learned the lesson without too much embarrassment, unlike the Philharmonic’s “Patron X.”

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