October 2nd, 2009
11:00 AM ET

Let freedom ring

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I’m not going to mention any real names in this piece, even though I only got wind of one person’s first name. But I experienced something today in a CNN rest room which all of us have probably had to confront. Whether to answer a cell phone call when you’re in the bathroom.

I never have answered a cell phone in a bathroom, for a variety of reasons. Protecting my cell phone from potential water damage is the least of those reasons. I think there are certain boundaries we need to preserve to maintain a civil society. This is not the most pressing issue on the civility front today. But it did turn my stomach when someone in the men’s room picked up the cell phone and proceeded to have a conversation as if it talking on a cell phone while in the process of a natural act were the most natural act in the world.



“Yeah, we still on for lunch?”


“OK, that time sounds good for me.”

Hand wash (thank goodness).

And the conversation went on as the offender exited the bathroom.

I have to imagine the person on the other side of the line heard the sound effects.

If I were that person on the other side of the line, I know what I would have said.

I’m passing on lunch today. Not as hungry as I thought I’d be. Let’s reschedule. Text me from the car.

I’d take a foot tapper in the next stall desperately sending me Morse code over a cell phone talker any day. At least, with a foot tapper, I can distract myself by getting a song in my head to the right beat. But there’s no blocking out a cell phone conversation two feet away.

I’m no Miss Manners. And I’m not an activist. But I think a well-mannered society should have certain common understandings. Turning off your cell phone ringers in theaters is now standard. Not talking on cell phones at the cash register is becoming widely accepted. Now I want to know this.

Who out there among you agrees with me? Cell phones have provided us with a certain level of freedom. But in the bathroom, I say, let freedom ring.

Filed under: Michael Schulder • Technology
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Jess

    Amen, Michael. Phone offenders (especially in female bathrooms) are the most annoying things on the planet.

    October 2, 2009 at 11:07 pm |
  2. David D.

    Even in high school, I hear people talking on the cell phone in the next stall. And I don't think their mothers are too happy about hearing their sons flushing the toilet while they're discussing the dentist appointment or whatever. Let the phone ring. Call them back when you get out, nobody wants to hear that.

    October 2, 2009 at 11:02 pm |
  3. monikag

    i can't STAND that! women answer their mobiles ALL the time in the restrooms! i'm mobile addict but i would NEVER answer it while in the can, not even for a million bucks after my divorce is final!

    October 2, 2009 at 11:00 pm |
  4. Storyteller

    I don't like cell phones in general unless I'm stranded by the side of the road and need a tow truck. And come to think of it, I dislike public restrooms almost as much. Throw the guy whistling anywhere in there and it would be the perfect storm of annoying in my world. So yeah...I agree with you.

    October 2, 2009 at 10:34 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    I agree with you – in the bathroom no cell phone conversations. I've been several times when people in other stalls take a break to have a gossip session on the phone with their caller – its hard not to listen and then you feel guilty that you listened when all you really came for was a close encounter with the facilities. People need to let some things wait.

    October 2, 2009 at 10:32 pm |
  6. Mama Panda

    Michael Schulder and Minnie Ha Ha, I'm with both of you!

    October 2, 2009 at 10:27 pm |
  7. KatchProFILMS

    Mr. Manners. (I like it.)

    October 2, 2009 at 3:35 pm |
  8. Jennie

    I'm with you too. My boss is a culprit of this. I shudder to think that when I call him, he may be in the bathroom! Ew!

    October 2, 2009 at 2:53 pm |
  9. Joseph Field

    I once had occasion to be listening to a conference call on my cell phone while using the facilities in a wash room.
    I had thought that my end of the call was muted, so you can imagine my embarrasment when the speaker on the other end of the line inquired as to which listener had just flushed himself down the toilet.
    Fortunately there were so many people listening at the time that the true culprit could not be identified. My advice is: Caveat Flusher!


    October 2, 2009 at 2:15 pm |
  10. Minnie Ha Ha

    Michael Schulder – I'm with you – Let the cell phone ring when nature calls.

    October 2, 2009 at 1:57 pm |
  11. Danielle - Long Beach, CA

    I have to agree with you., I live in SoCal and people have no cell etiquette. There is an announcement at the beginning of church service asking people to ensure their phones are off. If God doesn't rate high enough to mute your ringer I'm sure they think the bathroom stall is just a phonebooth with a toilet.

    October 2, 2009 at 11:34 am |
  12. heaintthroughwithmeyet


    I totally agree with you.

    This happens to me regularly at work. I go to the bathroom, and people sitting in those stalls doing their business, while talking on the phone. I can hear the whole conversation plus the sound effects of what they are doing at the moment. I am thinking are this people for real?
    Why can't you wait till you are out of the bathroom. And Anderson it isn't always that they just get a call. In my case it is people who are not on break, but hide in the bathroom and make phonecalls.

    Maybe they are on a break and use the time "wisely" I don't know.


    October 2, 2009 at 10:39 am |
  13. Emma

    Before I worked as a researcher here at CNN, my first 9-5 job was at the Georgia Capitol. I loved that job and was especially fond of the Capitol’s formality. Having grown up with parents who intentionally abolished societal barriers and boundaries I loved the world of the capitol where everyone had a title and boundaries to go with.

    Imagine my horror when one day in one of the many elegant granite lined, perfectly lit, bathrooms the State Representative in the stall next to me answered her cell phone.

    For an instant I shut my eyes and hoped the cell phone user with the audacity to pick up a call in a bathroom stall was merely a visitor in these hallowed halls and not someone with a title….no such luck.

    “This is the Representative-Name Redacted.”

    I cringed and vowed to stay silent until the call ended. The other patrons did not share my need for quiet…

    In those moments I prayed to the gods of order and manners please, please let this be a personal call. If a Representative has taken a personal call some semblance of order remains. Another patron flushed as the Representative continued what I now could tell was official state business.

    And with that the borders and boundaries so neat in my mind dissolved. But I resolved even if others were forsaking these boundaries to keep this one sacred. I will never carry on a cell phone conversation in a bathroom be it lined in granite or linoleum.

    October 2, 2009 at 9:27 am |
  14. Andre

    You're writing this as though it's the first time you have witnessed this...

    I have seen it many times before, and I agree with your opinion. There are times when you just have to a call go sometimes and the bathroom in my mind is one of those times.

    October 2, 2009 at 7:47 am |
  15. Monique

    I agree with you 100% this is taking it a bit to far!

    Where I work we have to carry radios for communication and there is a certain employee who does exactly what your cell phone guy did. One time he announced over the radio (to a person that was calling him over the radio) he was "indisposed" .

    Please I don't want to hear it and I don't want to know either!

    October 2, 2009 at 7:46 am |