So I was predisposed to think poorly of the behavior of the gentleman dining a couple of tables away from me last week. He was at lunch with his wife, and three times during the 20 minutes we were in proximity to each other his phone went off.
The first problem was the ring tone. It was the startup of a jet engine, set at a volume audible across the restaurant. I'm sure that sounded like a neat idea when he thought of it -- "Hey, a jet engine ring tone! Cool!" But speaking as someone who was near it, I have to strongly disagree. If my phone rings loud enough to disrupt your conversation, I am being rude to you.
The other problem didn't affect me, but I wonder at what point we decided that it was OK to interrupt time spent with someone across a table from us to talk with someone else on the phone? As I mentioned, the phone rang three times during the couple's meal, meaning that three times their interaction was placed on hold to address other matters. The gentleman's voice carried well enough that I could tell his side of the conversation didn't sound like he was directing life-saving efforts that required his immediate attention. Despite my online persona, I'm actually a pretty laid-back guy...but I would have finished my meal and said "We're done" if my companion or conversationalist answered three cell-phone calls during our time.
I appreciate the benefits of cell phones and I'm amazed at how technology has enabled us to maintain and develop connections across great distances. But when we make our face-to-face interactions pay for them we can send a message to the people we're actually around all the time, one that says their importance isn't as great as that we attach to the people on the other end of the phone.