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LBS & tourism through the eyes of a postgrad marketing student in New Zealand.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Jamming mobiles in NZ cinemas

I thought I'd comment on the recent news items about New Zealand cinemas considering the installation of cellphone jammers. I wasn't surprised by the first story, and was particularly amused by the following passage:
"He said the most antagonistic cellphone users he saw were middle aged women who answered their cellphones in cinemas and continued conversations.

They would get "incredibly aggro" if asked to turn their cellphones off or leave.

Mr Mackenzie said "cellphone rage" between patrons could get nasty.

He had to defuse an incident in Blenheim last year when a man threatened to hit two exchange students sitting on opposite sides of the cinema who were texting each other."
First of all, it's funny that they used the word 'aggro' in a newspaper article, though I guess they did put it in parentheses! Secondly, 'cellphone rage' is a problem not restricted to cinemas - it occurs on public transport, during university lectures, in waiting rooms, etc... Far from the majority of the population are well-versed in cellphone etiquette. Finally, the last example of people texting each other on opposites side of the cinema, while idiotic, is fully believable.

The reaction from mobile carriers is not surprising:
Vodafone public policy manager Roger Ellis said the company certainly didn't condone rude or offensive behaviour, but there were other ways of dealing with the problem -- by using the on-off switch, putting the phone onto silent mode, and turning on voice mail.

"We want people to respect the right to go to a movie, but that's not a reason to attack technology rather than the behaviour of the person."
...
"If a customer has bought a phone and can't use it in a part of the country because someone's installed a jammer, who is liable for that situation, particularly if someone's life is lost?"
From the cinema and the cinema's patrons' point of view, of course they have tried all those 'other ways of dealing with the problem' - there is an ad at the beginning of every movie reminding you to turn your phone off. However, it's clear that people who are obnoxious enough to have voice conversations or text message intrusively during a movie aren't going to pay attention to that!

It's like how stealing things from a store is illegal - there are signs all over the shop telling you that shoplifters will be prosecuted, yet there will still be individuals who disregard them and steal anyway. I bet that if there was some sort of shoplifting-jammer device, every retailer in the country (and the world) would install it in a heartbeat. Obviously, merely telling people not to do something won't work, so if there's a way to force them not to do it, it's the most surefire way of actually preventing that behaviour from occuring. Of course, anything like this would be highly illegal because of the mind controlling/behavioural modification factor, but it's a good analogy for what's happening with the cellphone jammers.

Re: these jammers being installed in cinemas, I'd say that it's a bad idea, because of uncertainties as to whether it would also disrupt signals outside of the cinema, and the possibility of emergency situations occuring. If someone sitting next to you in the cinema has a heart attack and collapses, instead of being able to call 111 immediately, you'd have to run to an area where you can receive a signal. I guess you could install a landline in every cinema for this purpose, but still, precious seconds could be lost and mean the difference between life and death.

Mainly, I think the best thing would be for all the parties involved (the cinema and the mobile carriers) to join forces, and try to better educate the NZ public on cellphone etiquette, kind of like the drink-driving and speeding ads. Maybe the cinema could give staff the right to remove any patrons found holding voice conversations or text messaging on ther mobile during a movie? The key is more communication, instead of trying to throw money at it (by installing expensive jamming devices) - funny how often that turns out to be the best way to solve a problem!

In the end, people talking in theatres isn't exactly a new phenomenon - it's just that you can now talk to people outside of them, too! Getting disrupted by mobile phones while watching movies in cinemas is just one of the sacrifices we have to make in our always-on, ubiquitously connected society.

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