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Calling For Cell Phone Etiquette

According to a recent survey, eight out of ten people say cell phones make their lives better, but six in ten view cell phones in public places as a major irritation.

Which begs the question: Is it the cell phones that drive people crazy, or the people making the calls?

CBS News correspondent Mika Brzezinski takes a look, for The Early Show series "Cellular Nation."

She points out that many consider our most beloved technical convenience, our companion and connection to the world, one that helps make our lives so free to be, at the same time, the most annoying invention since the car alarm.

Over a billion people around the planet view the world as their personal phone booth. They talk, and talk, and talk, so loudly, to the point that people wonder what happened to civility.

One user says, "Cell phones are starting to become such a public nuisance that it's hard to find a place to get away from them."

Another notes, "I don't think people give a damn."

Is it a plague, an addiction?

James Cameron of the Connecticut Commuter Group answers, "It is a new technology that we don't know how to properly use yet."

Cell phone etiquette, or the lack thereof, has become a social problem.

Fess up, have you ever done it?

"Yes," admits a user.

Persistent ringing, loud conversation and the shock of all-too-personal information top the list of offenses.

"Do we have to yell about the results of our colonoscopy in a Home Depot?" asks Carol Page.

She runs a Web site called, "It has really gotten to be a problem; people just yell their personal business everywhere."

Danny Meyer, owner of ten successful New York City restaurants, put the kibosh on cell phone use in his dining rooms six years ago.

He says, "Every time the phone rings, it's not only an interruption on their time, it's an interruption on everyone else who's trying to enjoy the restaurant."

And what about the people you're dining with -- the ones sitting there while you're yakking away?

New York Times ethicist Randy Cohen joined Brzezinski for lunch at one of Meyer's restaurants to discuss issues surrounding cell phone use in public.

"What if, while lunch is being served, I quickly answer my phone?" Brzezinkski asks.

Cohen answers, "If we were dating, we would be having a big fight now, because I would never do that to you..."

What does he hate most about public cell phone use?

"That the people speaking the loudest are the least interesting," Cohen says. "But here's my guideline: When you're in a closed space, where people can't escape -- a restaurant, a train -- then you can't use your cell phone."

Tell that to the train rider Brzezinski met.

She says, "You can be trapped for hours with somebody who screams the whole time."

Cameron says, "I want my peace and tranquility. I want my nap. It's been a long day. I'm going home. Give me a break."

Public transportation is a major battlefront in the wireless wars. Amtrack is experimenting with a quiet car for the long trips up the Northeastern corridor. And it looks pretty peaceful: no cell phone use, no beepers, no loud conversations.

But can the fussy win out on busy commuter lines? Unlikely.

Dan Brucker from the New York City suburban commuter train line Metro-North says, "Our conductors, what can they do about it? They can't police 1,200 customers; they can't issue a summons to somebody for talking. It's called freedom of speech. So we just have to get people to be more civilized, and speak quietly."

Some are worried that if people don't learn better manners, they'll soon have to worry about a new little item, called the jammer. Illegal in this country, it blocks calls within 50-200 feet.

Cohen says, "It's also an expression of the human desire for courtesy, for calm, manifest in technological form. I love the jammer."

For better or worse, the cell phone is here and there is no turning back. But we could probably be a little more courteous.

The jammer, which seems like the solution to all peace-loving people, is illegal in the U.S. because it can also block emergency calls, police and other urgent communications -- so don't be looking for it at Radio Shack.