Go ahead. Regulate me.

By | June 21, 2007

If you wanted to go see the pros play golf this week at the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn. you had to do it without your cell phone. PGA tour event organizers banned all cell phones, PDAs and other electronic devices from the tournament regardless of “silent mode.”

In return, officials set up sponsored “AT&T call centers” in three locations at the tournament, offering spectators free local and long-distance calls, as well as computer terminals for checking email.

Why the total ban on electronic devices? It’s not hard to surmise an answer. Tournament organizers probably would like spectators’ full attention. They don’t want to have to compete with the private social and work life that everyone seems to carry around with them inside their cell phone or blackberry device.

And the PGA tour certainly does not want its players or spectators to have to suffer an endless stream of interruptions from individuals’ mobile ICTs – whether it be ringtones going off at crucial moments or people conducting “private yet public” conversations on the golf course.

The ban can be viewed an example of how society is realizing that it needs to regulate mobile ICTs and their use in public spaces, because individuals aren’t responsible or capable enough to do it themselves.

Clive Thompson’s 2005 New York Times article, “Meet the Life Hackers” describes how nowadays to perform an office job, “your attention must skip like a stone across water all day long, touching down only periodically.”

Workers, like me, use computers to multitask. I, for example, have no less than six windows open on my computer screen at any one time. Right now, as a write this in Microsoft Word, I also have four internet browsers open – two for my full time job at courant.com, one for this class on Blackboard and one for my student email account. I’m also running my work Outlook email and Photoshop CS. Occasionally, I’ll open up another browser to search Google or I’ll open up Notepad to take some notes.

“Our software tools were essentially designed to compete with one another for our attention, like needy toddlers,” Thompson wrote.

Also, to offer full disclosure, I’m taking a short break from my full-time job duties today to write this essay. And I’m not working in the office today. I’m at my parents’ house, connecting remotely to my office computer using my laptop and Wi-Fi. My cell phone is lying on the desk nearby.

My daughter keeps coming into the room where I’m working to ask me questions. My co-workers are also emailing me questions. My best friend just called me on my cell phone a few minutes ago to tell me to watch this funny video she found on the Internet.

Now, what I was just doing? Oh yeah, I’m arguing a point here. My attention, like so many other people, is constantly being diverted from one task to the next or interrupted by one form of communication or another. There’s the telephone, email, radio, TV, SMS, the web, and good old fashioned face-to-face.

During the work week, I’m often not willing to “isolate” myself by turning off one of these routes of communication. Most people aren’t these days. We’re addicted to the novelty of it all, even though it stresses us out. I keep my email program open all the time because don’t want to miss an important work message, (and hopefully that cute guy I’ve been emailing will write back to me today). I keep my cell phone on all the time, including when I’m driving in the car, because my family or friends might need to reach me in an emergency, or because I might feel like making a call.

I’m always on, always connected. And if I went to the Travelers Championship this week, I’d want to take my cell phone with me onto the course. The tourney organizers, rightfully, aren’t giving people a choice. That’s probably a good thing. If they don’t manage the crowd’s inherent desire to stay connected, most people will only give “partial attention” to the golf.

Until the general public is willing to “turn off” and practice responsible, respectful use of mobile ICTs in public spaces, we need someone else to regulate their use for us.


Thompson, Clive (Oct. 16, 2005). “Meet the life hackers.” New York Times, Section 6, p. 40. Retrieved 2/20/2006, http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/printdoc

“Travelers Championship: A Fan’s Guide,” (2007) Courant.com. Retrieved 6/17/2007, http://www.ctnow.com/events/hce-fansguide0617.artjun17,0,7973634.story

1 Comment

Eugene on July 23, 2007 at 10:44 am.

Twenty bucks says I was the co-worker pestering you with e-mail questions!

Ever watch those 80’s-era David Croenberg movies, like “Videodrome,” where a guy sorta morphs into a television or something (least that’s how I remember it)? Seems that kinda stuff I coming true.
See ya!

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