Jamming Cell Phone Signals at the Movies

Terrible idea. Terrible, terrible, terrible… terrible idea.
Let me elaborate. The story is that certain groups (read: theater owners), with the “intention of rescuing the film industry”:http://upi.com/NewsTrack/view.php?StoryID=20051217-074635-6362r from the depths it has descended to, are pushing the FCC to block rude behavior by jamming cell phone signals in movie theatres.

What? In the first place, I was under the impression that jamming may be illegal, so what they really may be talking about is permission to circumvent the law in order to “rescue the ailing film industry”. I have two issues with this logic:

  1. Cellular phones are not the bane of the film industry’s existence. This slump in the fortunes of the movie industry is fictitious. It does not exist. The true reason for the moviegoers’ dislike for the moviegoing experience is the low quality of popular films coupled with the high cost of tickets. The annoying, distracting, place-reserved-in-hell, cell phone users are not the cause; they are a nail in the coffin. If the average moviegoing family has to spend $50 on a Friday night and the best they can get at is Cheaper By The Dozen 2 in a sticky, crowded theatre with sticky, annoying patrons… that big-screen TV in the basement starts looking like a better alternative. If the movie was Finding Nemo or the cost was $25, the cell phone users would not be an issue.
  2. The more important point though is the jamming of cell phones as a solution. This is the most counter-productive solution since the “TSA banned tweezers on airplanes”:http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1460564. I do not know people who have stopped going to the movies because of annoying cellular phones. I do, however, know people who will go much less if cell phones are jammed. I know doctors, people with sick relatives and children for whom this would be a nightmare. Imagine you’re enjoying an evening out with your spouse at a 3-hour sword+sandal epic and the babysitter can’t get you when little Johnny gets a penny stuck in his throat. Cellular phones are primarily a convenience, secondarily a device for safety and security; the annoyance is a side-effect. In the past, the government tried to “ban cell phones on airplanes”:http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/06/risks_of_cell_p.html based on the loosely defined threat of terrorists with phones. As with that case, the benefit of allowing decent people to keep their cell phones at their discretion far outweighs the annoyances of movie cell phone users.

In any case, if you dislike those annoying cell phone users, don’t worry. They will pay; “in this life or the next”:http://www.filmsite.org/greatquotes.html. 🙂

UPDATE: Some interesting “reader comments on the topic”:http://www.mobiledia.com/news/41645.html on “Mobiledia.com”:http://www.mobiledia.com. They talk of both alienation of customers and not actually needing the FCC in order to block cell signals (using a “faraday cage”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage )

UPDATE 2: “Ars Technica”:http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20051219-5802.html also has a similar analysis of the problem. From that article:

Sure, having a call from the babysitter pull you out of Return of the King right before the Battle of the Pelennor Fields sucks, but you gotta do what you gotta do. On the other hand, there’s no need for my cell to play Layla for the entire audience when that happens. […] But the theater operators are not pushing for changes that improve anybody’s life. As usual, it’s all about showing them the money and getting people back into the theater again.

Ars Technica also has a lively “discussion on the topic here”:http://episteme.arstechnica.com/eve/ubb.x?a=dl&s=50009562&f=174096756&x_id=1135017140&x_subject=Movie+theaters+to+block+cell+phones%3F&x_link=http://arstechnica.com&x_ddp=Y.

Also, here’s “the original NY Times article”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/17/movies/MoviesFeatures/17thea.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1135013271-ejhpZtfFiP8tnCGKFtRiTw that speaks of the issue. From TA:

Moviegoers’ biggest complaint, however, is ticket prices. A recent online study found that price was the reason most often cited by those polled for staying away, far more than movie quality or rude behavior.

UPDATE 3: Also, this article is now “featured on Digg”:http://digg.com/technology/Bad_Idea:_Jamming_Cellular_Phones_at_the_Movies. Take a look at the comments posted there and “digg it”:http://digg.com/technology/Bad_Idea:_Jamming_Cellular_Phones_at_the_Movies too while you’re there. Apparently I’m being accused of being a shill for the cell phone industry! That’s rich… I’m also being taken to task over having an opinion at all. 🙂 Also, somebody pointed out that jamming a signal with another signal would effectively double the radio waves; and potentially double the damage to the brain!

UPDATE 4: I quoted Schneier when I originally wrote this article, and now he has “taken up this topic on his blog”:http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/03/movie_theaters.html as well. I like his point about armed robbery and it doesn’t stop there. Allowing one industry to block a technology for profit is wrong in a very basic sense. You cannot regulate in order to make people polite.


One thought on “Jamming Cell Phone Signals at the Movies

  1. The most annoying thing I find in the theatresis loud crunching and slushing sounds of a family having popcorn and soda in the row behind me!I bet the theatres are not going to ban that as it brings in moola…!

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