Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cellphones and movie theaters shouldn't mix

Late last August, I was visiting my son in Richmond. He and I took in a late-night showing of the latest X-Men movie, "The Wolverine." Throughout the film the glow of cellphone screens lit up the theater.

It's a common experience, but one that isn't limited to lighter fare mostly attended by young adults. A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I experienced a similar cellphone glow during a showing of "12 Years a Slave," a more serious movie attended by a much older crowd.

It's rude to use a cellphone during the showing of a movie. It's disturbing to the other attendees. But rarely do ushers enforce the policy laid out clearly by the trailers that precede a movie.

Are other viewers responsible for saying something to those who use their cellphone for texting or tweeting or checking their email during the showing of a movie? It used to be that a well-placed glare at someone who was talking too loudly might do the trick, but with a head buried in a cellphone screen, such glares can go unnoticed.

There is, of course, the concern that confronting a cellphone user might itself be more of a disruption to the rest of the viewers than the glow of the cellphone itself.

So what's the right thing to do?

There's a practice among some friends having dinner out to put all their cellphones in the middle of the table at the beginning of the meal. Whoever grabs his or her cellphone first picks up the bill for everyone's meal. While it would be a nice practice, it's unlikely that theater cellphone users would pick up the tab for everyone else's theater ticket if they choose to be rude and use their phones during the feature.

I believe it's the movie theater's responsibility to try to enforce its policy of no cellphone use during movies. It would also be good to think that telling an usher or manager that there is excessive use of cellphones during a showing would result in some action. But since these cellphone glows can be intermittent, it's unlikely that a manager would return in time to confront the perpetrator.

While viewers might be reluctant to say anything to the users, I believe it is the right thing to do, as long as they don't perceive that doing so would result in any harmful confrontation. The disruption caused by asking someone to stop using their phone during a film is momentary compared to the cellphone glow that comes regularly without warning.

If theater management is unwilling to enforce its own policy against cellphone use during the feature, then I believe the right thing is to give viewers a choice to see a movie in a theater where cellphone signals are blocked. If they won't enforce a policy to guarantee the enjoyment of a movie, then they should invest in the technology in their theaters that will do this for them.

That would leave the choice among the viewers of whether to separate themselves from cellphone use for two hours or not. Short of this, movie theaters might increasingly find themselves with fewer patrons willing to shell out money to be among rude patrons. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Should you tip lousy waiters?

What do you leave for a tip if you receive lousy service at a restaurant?

It's a question many of us have faced at one time or another. If the tip is supposed to recognize good service, then is it OK to leave no tip when the service is abysmal?

A reader from Massachusetts writes that he and his wife took their granddaughter to an Italian restaurant last month.

"It took 40 minutes to get her chicken nuggets," he writes. "I had to ask twice for water, for Parmesan cheese and for napkins."

When it became clear that good service was not forthcoming, the reader had "a little conversation" with the manager. The manager told him that the restaurant would eat the cost of his family's meal.

But the reader was still steaming about the lousy service even after the manager foot the bill. Nevertheless, he writes that he still gave the waitress a $7 tip, which he indicates would probably have been a 10 percent tip on the total cost of the meal.

"I usually tip 20 percent," he says. "What should I have done?"

Everyone has a bad day. Restaurant servers can certainly find themselves falling victim to a slow kitchen or surly patrons at other tables or they may simply be off their game for the night. Some understanding is always a good thing.

Talking to the server first about the service early on is one route to take. When that doesn't work, then talking to a manager, as my reader did, is a good next step.

Still, if a gratuity is supposed to represent good service, why should a restaurant server expect to get a good tip if he or she delivered consistently bad service throughout the meal?

If the goal of my reader was to leave a message to the server that the service was terrible, then leaving nothing would have been risky. The server might not know if it was deliberate or if my reader simply forgot to leave a tip. Leaving 10 percent, however, might just suggest to the server that he's on the stingy side.

A better solution that's been offered by some waiters and waitresses is to leave a tip that is small enough that it says to the server in no uncertain terms that the service was abysmal. Would $1 send that message? A penny? That depends on how much the meal would have cost.

But if that practice is to be employed on the rare occasion when poor service is received, then it seems only fair to enact a similar policy when truly exceptional service is received. In such instances, rather than his typical 20 percent, my reader might want to go a buck or two or percentage or so higher to send a clear message about that kind of service.

The right thing is to do as my reader did and try to talk to the server first and then the boss. If he wanted to send a message to the server about the truly awful service he believes he received, the right thing would have been to send that message more clearly. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Should college applicants write their own reference letters?

Just before 10:30 p.m., as the Red Sox were dominating the St. Louis Cardinals in the sixth inning of the sixth game of this year's World Series, I received an email on my phone from a former student. Having moved to New York years ago, apparently she was not all that interested in watching a Boston team win.

She had decided to go back to school and was applying to graduate programs to further pursue what she had studied as an undergraduate. She began by filling me in on the reasoning for her decision and then segued to request if I could write recommendations for her to the graduate schools to which she was applying.

Since she had been a strong student who had kept me abreast of what she had been doing in the years since graduating, I had no problem agreeing to her request.

But she continued with a sentence at the end of her email that threw me a bit: "Because I understand you might be very busy, I'd be happy to draft up a recommendation with some basics that you may then edit to whatever extent you see fit."

I wrote back that I'd be glad to write the recommendations but that I wouldn't be comfortable having someone write his or her own recommendation that I could simply edit.

That was fine she replied and thanked me.

I've written in the past about students who have others write or re-write their college application essays for them, a practice that I find to be dishonest in that it doesn't reflect the work of the applicant.

But here someone was offering to write a letter for me to use to recommend her. Out of curiosity, I emailed her again and asked if other recommenders had accepted her offer.

Yes, she wrote. "I actually offered because two other people have flat out asked me to write drafts for them to edit." She indicated that she now found herself in the position of having to figure out how to write a recommendation letter for herself that will ultimately be from someone else, a process that she acknowledged was going to be "a little uncomfortable."

It may be naive to believe that such a practice doesn't go on regularly, but does that make it an acceptable practice?

No. While no one at the receiving institution might be any wiser since only the applicant and recommender would know, it's not an honest representation of what it purports to be. Prospective recommenders should either write their own letters or simply decline the requests if they don't have the time or the desire to do so.

A couple of days after her request, my former student wrote to tell me that the applications for a couple of the schools had a little box that applicants had to check where you swear you had no part in editing or drafting the recommendation letter being submitted. "So I'm now facing a more serious ethical dilemma," she wrote.

The right thing seems clear. Only ask recommenders who are willing to write the actual letter that they will ultimately represent as their own work. If they're not inclined to do so, ask someone else. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of  The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apartis a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, November 03, 2013

OMG, I can't believe I offended you

At the beginning of the summer, my wife and I took our grandsons and their friends to a weekly outdoor farmer's market and arts andcrafts fair in the South End of Boston, which hat runs from May through October. The kids loved the food trucks, the vintage goods store and the quirkiness of the crowd.

I chatted up the owner of a company called PeriodicallyInspired who was in her booth selling T-shirts, coffee mugs and other stuff that had various phrases imprinted on them drawing from letters on the periodic table. My wife bought me a black T-shirt with the letters O (for oxygen) and Mg (for magnesium) on it. Get it? OMG, the overused text shorthand for "Oh, my God" written in response to, well, something to which you'd typically respond "OMG." I thought the products and the T-shirt were clever.

It turns out, however, that I may be one of many who serve as a leading indicator that we are headed toward becoming a Godless nation.

In a recent column for The Boston Globe, Jennifer Graham, raised the issue of how we Americans have become cavalier about our use of God's name. Using OMG, she observed, is for some people "at least as vulgar as David Ortiz dropping the f-bomb at Fenway," something the Red Sox slugger did shortly after the bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line back in April. There are others, she observed, who find the word "jeez" offensive because it derives from "Jesus."

Graham adheres to what she describes as "the antiquated notion that a certain reverence and restraint is due the sacred."

I agree with Graham. It is good to be respectful of other's beliefs and not to tread on their notion of what is sacred to them.

If the intent of those using the OMG phrase was to be blasphemous or profane or to attack someone else's religion, that would be wrong. But it's a tough stance to take that OMG is any more of a misappropriation of God's name than those who invoke it as they enter into combat or a cross-country meet. Any use may offend someone.

But if I know that Graham or others are offended by something, is it wrong for me to continue doing that thing? Should I stop wearing my OMG T-shirt out of concern that I might run into Graham on the street? No more than it is wrong for me to continue wearing the leather shoes I know some friendly vegans I pass on the way to work find offensive.

If we truly want to avoid the possibility of offending anyone for everything we do, we should never leave the house. Even then, some might find that choice offensive.

The right thing is not to deliberately use a phrase or icon to persecute, silence or demean someone else. It's doubtful that OMG is any more offensive than "gadzooks" was in its day.

Without shame, I will continue to wear my OMG T-shirt and to chuckle every time I see the Ichthys fish, which began as an early Christian symbol, glued onto the back of my wife's car that has the words "N Chips" written within the body. No offense. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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