I hate cellphone interruptions more than almost any lecture-interrupting event not involving gunplay. Our students seem not to realize (though our colleagues surely should) that explaining complex material to an assembly of strangers within a time limit is stressful. It’s harder than those who have never done it would think. Trying to get back on track after being blindsided by a disturbance can cost you as much as a minute—perhaps 3 to 5 percent of the time you have for a conference paper (and 2 percent even in a 50-minute class).
If you’re a little too frank (“What the hell is wrong with you morons—your phones are so smart yet you’re all so dumb”) you risk losing audience goodwill. Yet you don’t want to just tolerate it (“Umm … let’s see now, where was I?”). I remember seeing Stephen Jay Gould at Stanford pleading with his audience to stop popping flashbulbs in his face (they had been sternly warned not to). It seemed weak. Step down from the podium and smash his camera, I thought.
Take a look!