Mobile Manners

June 6, 2011

Irene texting and Po

I don’t know how to write this post without sounding like Wendy Whiner, or an 89-year-old lady waving her cane, yelling at passersby to get off her lawn.

Nevertheless, I wanted to bring it up because it’s relevant to Slow living and our attempts to make the world around us a little more sane and a lot more pleasant. I’m talking about mobile device etiquette… cell phones, iPhones, Blackberrys, iPods, etc.

Growing up, we all learned etiquette — table manners; how to greet strangers; saying please and thank you; ways of dressing, speaking, and dealing with different people and situations.

Manners aren’t simply rules; they’re tangible ways we acknowledge the dignity of other human beings — and ourselves. They also create and preserve boundaries, which are important for good relationships.

Manners are different from culture to culture and family to family, but generally speaking, most of us grew up with the same basics. What we didn’t learn, however, was specific etiquette around mobile devices — because those devices didn’t exist when we were young. Even though they’ve now been part of our lives for a while, there’s still no commonly acknowledged protocol when it comes to using them.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in the middle of a conversation with a business professional or at dinner with friends, when suddenly their cell phone rings and I’m left staring at the ceiling. If you’re a doctor on call or a nervous mother out on the town with kids at home, I understand the need to heed a ring; but as a general rule, this behavior is rude. At the very least, it deserves an “excuse me” or an “I’m sorry…”

I’ve been in the car with drivers who are texting. I’ve been in meetings where everyone is staring at their Blackberries rather than greeting each other. Sometimes I look around when I’m at a train station or standing on a street corner and realize that 80% of the people around me are talking on phones or staring at miniature screens.

Many of these same people probably know which fork to use, the importance of a kind greeting, and wouldn’t dream of forgetting to say thank you. But when it comes to using cell phones or texting, it’s the Wild West out there. It seems to me that adults who otherwise have decent manners shouldn’t be so clueless when it comes to using mobile devices.

And furthermore, get off my lawn!

Sorry, old-lady rant over. But seriously, am I the only one who feels this way?

I say all this as someone who prefers to eat with her fingers, has been known to talk with her mouth full, and isn’t entirely innocent of breaches in tech etiquette. My major faux pas has been talking on the phone in the car — mostly while stuck in traffic. I have to work hard at making my car a phone-free zone; in that case, it’s not simply about rudeness but safety.

Manners have always been taught at home and reinforced at school and in the wider community. Etiquette related to technology is probably no different. Here are some guidelines I hope to instill in my own family:

  • There are times and places where mobile devices shouldn’t be heard or used: at church, in a classroom, sitting in a restaurant, driving a car, at the theater.
  • It’s annoying and distracting to listen to a one-way conversation. Remember that when talking on a cell phone in public.
  • Unless you’re expecting an urgent call or text, turn off or silence your device when you’re visiting with another person.
  • If you must take a call or read a text in the middle of a conversation, meal, or meeting, excuse yourself, be brief, and acknowledge the interruption.
  • Sit down with yourself and decide what your own rules are about texting, talking on the phone, etc., and then be your own etiquette cop.

What else would you add to this list?

By the way, above is my friend Irene texting at a restaurant while her pooch, Napoleon, waits for her. While it looks like I captured a breach of etiquette, the truth is, these two did a good job of posing for me.

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1 Cassandra June 6, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Any thoughts on how you would bring this up with a husband who’s joined-at-the-hip with his BlackBerry without sounding like a nag?

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2 Zoe Saint-Paul June 6, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Ah, husbands who love their tech gadgets… I know it well.

The one idea that occurs to me is to send him a link to this post :-)

The other thing is to catch him in a good mood and ask, “Do you think it would be a good idea to establish some tech-free times of day in order to teach our kids how to balance technology and home life?”

That may be too obvious, but it isn’t accusatory, and puts it in context of what’s important – teaching our kids good manners around this stuff.

Come to think of it, now you really can’t send him this post, can you?

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3 Cassandra June 6, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Ha! Ya, I think he’d catch on pretty quickly! Good suggestion about bringing it up in the context of our kids, though:)

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4 Kate June 6, 2011 at 7:36 pm

I want to make our bedroom a “BlackBerry Free Zone”!!
(If I’m adamant that there is no TV in the bedroom I’m not sure why I don’t have rules around cell phone use, but I don’t). What is more annoying than having your husband roll over in bed and check on his msgs when you’re about to fall asleep or you’re in the middle of a conversation, not to mention it can killl any romance….. leave the cell phones on a charger by the door people!! What can’t wait ’til morning?

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Ann Waterman 5 Ann Waterman June 7, 2011 at 9:12 am

Kate, is it possible we’re married to the same person? My husband does the exact same thing!

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6 Therese June 7, 2011 at 1:17 am

I feel the same way, but not limited to mobile devices. I homeschool my kids. When the phone rings, I don’t always want to interrupt what we are doing to answer it. By exception, sure, but I want to own my time, not jump to an electronic call. OTOH, I don’t mind quiet one-way conversations in public. I know that they are annoying to some, but if they are quiet, I don’t find them disturbing. Of course, I don’t in the least disagree with the etiquette ban proposed – never acceptable in theaters, church, restaurants, etc.

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7 Zoe Saint-Paul June 7, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I would agree, Therese, that if the conversation isn’t too loud, it’s not overly bothersome. You’re right that being mindful of the way we use all our technologies is wise and enables us to have more control over our time.

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8 EML June 7, 2011 at 9:39 pm

This is my biggest pet peeve! I am really amazed at how rude people can be sometimes. Luckily, my husband and I are on the same boat when it comes to electronic use.

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9 Zoe Saint-Paul June 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Yes, that is super helpful!

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