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Mirror up to nature: Cell phones on television

Posted by Robin Abrahams  October 1, 2012 03:13 PM

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I was delighted to see that Slate's June Thomas covered a minor obsession of mine -- cell phones in television and movies:

But there is one area where it is destroying culture and ruining lives: Television keeps telling people it's OK to talk, text, and generally act like an inconsiderate fool at the theater.

Live-theater etiquette may be Ms. Thomas's particular bugbear in this piece, but characters on television and in movies (and, for that matter, plays!) have atrocious cell-phone etiquette in nearly all venues, and are never called out on it. Whichever recapper or blogger said that "The Shield" should have been titled "I Gotta Take This" made a good joke that applies to almost every crime/cop drama on television (including my beloved "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit").

Cell phones are a wonderful innovation for screenwriters because they are almost literal deus ex machina devices to move the action along. This is why it never reads as rude when you're watching a character in a movie or television show interrupt a conversation to take a call. The call invariably supersedes the conversation or enhances it. Stabler never interrupts a conversation with Benson to read a text that his daughter passed her algebra exam. It's either the ME calling with the answer to the question they were just that moment discussing, or an emergency that necessitates ending the conversation anyway.

Cell phones in real life disrupt social interaction. Cell phones in scripted stories smooth out social interaction. 

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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