6 Solutions to Bad Smartphone Etiquette


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Is it too late to repair the bad smartphone behavior that's apparent just about everywhere you go – at the theater, over dinner or during a face-to-face conversation?

Are you tired of people who let their smartphones rule their lives to the point they’re rude to those around them? These are violations of cellphone etiquette, which is a subset of what’s referred to as “netiquette.”

Some examples:

  • The dining companion who constantly checks his phone.
  • The person who texts while you’re having a conversation with them.
  • The strangers who use their phones at the movies or other public events.
  • Here’s the worst: people who use their smartphones during sex. (I’m not making this up.)

A poll conducted for Nokia a couple of years ago identified these as the top four pet peeves regarding cellphone behavior:

  1. People playing music, games or movies in public without using headphones.
  2. People who talk too loudly. This has been called “cell yell.”
  3. People who use their phone at the movies or in a theater.
  4. People who text while you’re having a conversation with them.

Aren’t there ways to make these people stop being so thoughtless of others around them?

We looked for some possibilities:

1. Penalize yourself

A Michigan judge had a standing rule that anyone whose device disrupted his courtroom would be cited for contempt and assessed a $25 fine. He ultimately paid the fine himself after his new smartphone began speaking during a trial. “I set the bar high, because cellphones are a distraction and there is very serious business going on,” Judge Raymond Voet reportedly said.

Perhaps you’d be less inclined to engage in bad smartphone etiquette if you announced to your friends that you’d pay a price whenever you did. You could give the money to a designated charity.

2. Penalize others

As I’ve written elsewhere, some restaurants have taken to kicking out patrons who use their phones or charging them extra. On the other hand, at least one gives a discount to those who surrender their phones at the door.

3. Point out the rude behavior

You could politely – no cussing or fussing allowed – mention your objections. But before you do so, carefully assess the responsiveness of the person who is being rude. In fact, I’d be reluctant to mention it to a perfect stranger.

4. Jump on the bandwagon

Did you know that July was National Cell Phone Courtesy Month? Nope, me neither. But what if a large number of people committed to recognizing and honoring this monthlong event? That would get some people’s attention. Often social change starts with the efforts of just a handful of determined people.

5. Begin at home

Maybe you can’t regulate the bad cellphone behavior of others, but you can control what goes on in your house. Set the standards and enforce them. No phones at the dinner table. No phones during homework. Phones turned off after a certain hour. The Pew Research Center says 44 percent of cellphone owners have slept with their phone next to the bed because they were afraid of missing something.

6. Give them their own space

This idea came to me when I read an article on The Huffington Post by Karen Leland about the origins of National Cell Phone Courtesy Month. How about if areas where people regularly congregate have separate sections for those with phones and those without – like the old smoking and nonsmoking sections of airplanes? On second thought, nah. There wouldn’t be enough nonusers to make this work. The Pew Research Center says 91 percent of U.S. adults have a cellphone and 56 percent have a smartphone.

Would any of these ideas really make a difference? I’ve noticed that while most people agree that good netiquette is nearly nonexistent, they often manage to overlook or even excuse their own bad behavior.

The Pew Research Center says only 11 percent of cellphone owners worry that they are too involved with their phones. In fact, the center says:

  • 39 percent of cell owners say that people they know have complained because they don’t respond promptly to phone calls or text messages.

  • 33 percent of cell owners say that people they know have complained because they don’t check their phone frequently enough.

In other words, people are not complaining that we’re too attached but that we’re not attached enough.

A friend of mine told me she shared my pet peeves about people checking phones during dinner and texting during conversations, but she kept checking her smartphone during dinner at a special event. Her kids might need her, she said, explaining her reasoning. All of those kids were grown and out of the house.

Wrote Julie Spira on The Huffington Post:

As a netiquette expert, it doesn’t surprise me that 90 percent of cell phone users think they have good mobile manners. Do you?

Well, do you? Do you have any ideas for how bad smartphone etiquette can be improved, or has that train left the station? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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