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10:32 PM Sat, Oct. 20th

Modern technology, societal changes challenge etiquette

The age-old practice of etiquette - unwritten rules on how people should interact with each other - faces challenges from modern technology and other societal changes.

The widespread use of cell phones and other electronic devices may appear rude or at best distracting in restaurants and other social settings. In fact, some businesses and institutions, including public schools, restrict or ban the use of cell phones.

For instance, the archives of the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott posts a sign barring cell phones.

"It's pretty standard policy if you go into any library" to find such a sign, said Ryan Flahive, director of research, archives and publications at the museum. "Places of study don't need that distraction."

Flahive continued, "Cell phones have two different distractions. One is the ring. The other is the conversation. To me, it is poor etiquette to use your cell phone when there are other people doing business. You go into a movie theater. The first thing they say on the screen is 'turn off your cell phone.'"

The cell-phone ban also applies to Bradshaw Mountain Diagnostic Laboratory Inc., which maintains labs in Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley and other locations.

"We put (the ban) in because of its annoyance," said Tom Fellows, president and general manager. "We have not run into any issues of picture-taking (with cell phones), but there are several well-known people who live in the area" and patronize the labs.

Lab staff wants to protect the privacy of patients and avoid annoyance, according to Fellows.

"Typically, you would not want somebody listening to you" talking on a cell phone, Fellows said. "We haven't told anybody to go outside. It's just a matter of courtesy."

Restrictions on electronic devices also apply to students at Bradshaw Mountain High School in Prescott Valley and Prescott High School.

"No electronic equipment will be allowed that disrupts the educational process," states the electronic equipment policy from Bradshaw Mountain High. "Cell phones and pagers must be turned off and (remain) out of sight during class periods and other educational activities."

The policy states students may uses cell phones during lunch hour. School officials may confiscate a cell phone from a student for the first violation, returning the phone by the end of the school day. On the second offense, school officials will release the cell phone to a parent.

A similar policy is in effect at Prescott High School, according to Assistant Principal Elaine Corbet. A third violation for using a cell phone inside a building results in the student facing an hour of detention.

"We don't want students cheating by texting each other - not that any of our students ever would," Corbet said with a laugh.

"We used to let kids have iPods," Corbet said. "It was a disaster. They were in the halls. They were in the classes."

Corbet said students "are pretty good" at adhering to the cell-phone policy.

When policies are not in place, some people adhere to their own codes of conduct.

"I don't carry on a conversation on a cell phone with other people around or in a meeting - because of etiquette," Prescott Valley Town Manager Larry Tarkowski said. "I find it rude."

Tarkowski said he will take calls on his cell phone in his office if he is alone, or he will go outside the Civic Center.

"If I get a call in a restaurant, I will either ignore the call or step outside," he said.

Acceptance of cell phones and other electronic devices reflects societal changes, believes Charlie Hicks, who teaches electronic media at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. His syllabus states students must turn off cell phones and other electronic devices.

"I don't know if it is so much that the students have gotten rude or more disrespectful," said Hicks, a 1997 graduate of NAU who has taught there for four years. "What maybe the older generation might consider rude (the students) may consider multitasking."

Hicks also talked about "the explosion of commentators" on cable news programs.

"They grasp for controversy, or they start looking for subject matter," Hicks said. "And a lot of that turns nasty or it turns rude."

Their behavior raises a question, he said. "Is the media reflecting society, or are we shaping it? Most people would say it is a combination of both."

Hicks added technology is "corroding" traditional forms of manners or etiquette.

Corbet recalls learning about kitchen or dining etiquette when she attended high school in Wickenburg years ago. She added that home economics teachers at Prescott High School cover etiquette.

"Manners, Etiquette & Confidence" is the title of a four-week class that the Prescott Valley Parks and Recreation Department began offering this past week for girls ages 8 to 14. The second session starts Oct. 1, and the third session begins Nov. 5.

The instructor, Cynthia Eis, could not be reached for comment.

Contact the reporter at khedler@prescottaz.com