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Diners Losing Appetite for Cell Phones

May 25, 1999|MARTIN MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A weekly column about humans as they interact with things that beep, buzz, ring and download.

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Dear Button Pusher: I was eating dinner at a nice restaurant last week, and a gentleman two tables over must have gotten four or five cell phone calls during dinner. After the fifth call, my dinner companion asked the man to shut his phone off. The man became very indignant and refused. Were we rude to want him to silence his cell phone?

--RINGING IN MY EARS

Dear Ringing: Rude? Indeed not.

For that sound you hear is not just the ringing of phones, it's also a growing chorus of cries like yours to ban the high-pitched squealing of cell phones from restaurants.

The popular restaurant guide, the Zagat Survey, has posted a diner's bill of rights on its new Web site, http://www.zagat.com. You'll be sure to want to vote on the nine-point manifesto, especially the sixth point, which calls for "cellular phone-free seating."

According to Tina Zagat, who publishes the bestselling restaurant review guides with her husband, Tim, cellular phones have become a restaurant nuisance only in the last year or so. It's not just the ringing either.

"When people talk on a cell phone, they usually talk louder than normal dinner conversation," said Tina, whose books have reviewed 17,000 restaurants. "It's very annoying. The last thing you want to hear is a booming conversation about stock trading during dinner."

Zagat isn't aware of any restaurants that have banned cell phones, but she thinks the time is not far off and more likely in upscale restaurants, not in eating establishments that feature "all you can eat" signs or provide playground equipment near the drive-thru.

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Dear Button Pusher: Help! My grandparents won't get an answering machine and won't get call waiting, so it's hard to reach them. They also have caller ID, and since I'm in college and my number changes a lot, they sometimes don't recognize it and won't pick up the phone! What can I do?

--GRANDPARENT CHALLENGED

Dear Challenged: Send them a postcard with your new number in black Magic Marker and tell them to put it by the phone. If that doesn't work, start writing letters.

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Dear Button Pusher: I get so much e-mail it's hard to keep track of it all. E-mail from family, friends and work all flow into one big folder. But what really irks me is the occasional e-mail from a person with some unusual identification like darthvader@blah.com, and that's it. No real name, no nothing. Is there any way to find out who is behind them?

--NAME CURIOUS

Dear Curious: Unless you're a member of law enforcement, the answer is no. Most servers will divulge the owner of an e-mail account only to police. These anonymous e-mail people are the same kind who call you in the middle of the night and ask if your refrigerator is running. In fact, they may be one and the same person. Of course, anonymity is one of the great draws of the Internet. You can be anyone, and unless you commit a crime, it's unlikely anyone will ever know who you are.

Still, it's mighty annoying.

For comments and questions upon the human-machine relationship, please e-mail martin.miller@latimes.com, write to Button Pusher, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, or fax (213) 237-4888.

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