There’s a right and wrong way to use your smartphone in public. The right way ensures that you don’t infringe on anyone else’s right to be comfortable in the same public space as you and that you conduct yourself in a socially acceptable way. It’s the way an adult should behave.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any classes on proper smartphone etiquette. It’s just a bunch of unspoken social etiquette rules that we’ve sort of agreed upon as a modern, technological society. Here are several smartphone etiquette mistakes to avoid if you care about being mature, polite, and mindful of those around you.
1. Looking at the Screen When You’re in Motion
Doesn’t matter if you’re walking, driving, riding a bike, or whatever else. Keep your eyes on where you’re going, not your phone. You might think you’re a multitasking master, and you might make it through the day just fine 99% of the time, but that 1% can be catastrophic. You might run someone over. You might be the one who’s run over. And even if you “only” bump into someone, it’s downright rude.
2. Using Speakers in Public
It’s bad enough when someone wants to have a full-blown conversation at full volume in a public space. It’s even worse when that conversation is blaring out on speakerphone for everyone to hear. It’s even worse if you’re playing music out loud. Nobody cares what you’re listening to. Keep it to yourself, wear headphones, and spare the people around you.
3. Leaving Important Messages on Read
On some messaging apps, including iMessage, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Telegram, the other person gets a “read receipt” when you’ve seen their message. They know you’ve read their message and can expect a reply. Reading a message but not sending a reply is known as “leaving them on read.”
If your friend says “LOL” and you don’t respond, it’s one thing. It’s another when someone sends you a bid for your item on Facebook Marketplace, asks for an estimated arrival time, or shoots you a question on a dating app to keep the conversation going. Leaving someone on read is rude as it implies you’ve lost interest in the conversation or they aren’t important enough for you to respond to promptly. If you have time to read a message, you have time to type up a response.
4. Browsing Your Phone During Conversation
Whether sitting at the dinner table or chatting away with friends, family, or coworkers, the mature thing to do during face-to-face social interactions is to put your phone away and focus on those right in front of you. Sure, your phone is fair game if you’re all friendly and just waiting to pass the time. Otherwise, keep it in your pocket.
5. Taking a Call Around Others
You’re with someone and receive a phone call? Sure, go ahead and check who’s calling. If it’s an unknown number or appears to be an unimportant call, let it go to voicemail and handle it later. Excuse yourself if it looks like an important call, and take it elsewhere. It protects your privacy and allows the rest of the people there to continue socializing without having to talk over your side conversation. Also, if you expect a call later, let people know, so they aren’t surprised when you have to step aside.
6. Not Using Do Not Disturb at Night and in Theaters
Most iPhones and Android phones have a Do Not Disturb feature that you can toggle on to temporarily hide and silence all incoming calls, messages, and notifications. It keeps your screen from lighting up whenever something happens, which can be super distracting in an environment like a movie theater. It’s also good to use throughout the night, which keeps your phone from interrupting anyone else’s sleep in the same room (e.g., spouse).
7. Swiping Someone Else’s Phone
If someone ever hands their phone over to show you a photo, it’s extremely rude to swipe to the next photo without first asking permission. Yes, people should hide their sensitive photos if they’re going to hand their phone over, but it’s still polite to assume they haven’t. Even if you don’t stumble across something explicit (e.g., nudes), their gallery may consist of other personal, private, or even embarrassing moments they want to keep for themself.
8. Calling People During “Sleeping Hours”
Generally speaking, people are open to dealing with “work matters” between 9 am and 5 pm. (Workaholics may be more lenient.) For “personal matters,” people may be happy to communicate between 8 am and 10 pm. Beyond those hours, if you need to contact someone, you should wait until the next day, especially if you need to call them. Similarly, don’t expect people to reply outside those generally accepted personal hours.
9. Taking Photos of Others in Public
It’s sad to see how many people don’t have any sense of common courtesy out in public. For example, some people take photos of others working out at the gym. Whether they’re beautiful, significantly overweight, extremely incompetent, or whatever else, there’s no situation where it’s polite and acceptable to snap secret pictures of someone without their knowledge.
10. Putting Your Phone on the Dinner Table
You should give everyone your full attention when you eat with friends, family, or colleagues. Even if you aren’t actively staring at your phone, it can still be a distraction if it’s sitting on the table. Instead, you should keep your phone in your pocket or purse, and if possible, keep it on silent.
11. Talking on the Phone When at the Cashier
No one enjoys hearing a person’s entire conversation while they’re shopping. However, it’s far worse to keep talking on your phone when you are trying to check out at the grocery store or other shop. Hang up the phone before you start interacting with the cashier or other store associate.
12. Texting and Driving
As mentioned, you shouldn’t look at your phone while in motion. However, texting and driving is a serious offense that must be mentioned again. Not only is it illegal, but it can also be hazardous.
13. Texting During Meetings
Work meetings are usually important and require your full attention. If you text during a meeting, you send a message that you don’t care or respect the other people involved in the meeting. This is rude.
14. Being Too Absorbed to Live in the Moment
That beautiful landscape? That unique celebrity or role model? That wonderful group photo with friends and family? Go ahead and take a photo with them. Take several photos if you want to. But don’t miss the moment’s magic by chasing after picture after picture after picture. Snap a few keepsake images for posterity, then enjoy the moment personally. Generally speaking, it’s more meaningful to experience something than to record it.
Etiquette is Important, Even With Smartphones
Etiquette matters whether you are interacting with coworkers or attending a social event. All forms of social etiquette matter, even unwritten rules with smartphones. Remember, these rules help us all get along and treat each other well.
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