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Is cellphone etiquette dead?

It seems many people don't appreciate how rude it is to text or talk on a mobile phone when they're in the company of others.

By Karen Datko Sep 13, 2012 3:17PM

Image: Restaurant (© Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images/Getty Images)In the middle of a conversation at a friend's home recently, I looked up and saw her texting. Could she really have been listening to me? I was miffed but kept my mouth shut.


What's the point? It seems that in the battle between engaged and uninterrupted human discourse and communications of the electronic kind, real face-to-face conversation has lost.


A recent study indicates that the switch from simple mobile phones to smartphones has made people even more detached. The Atlantic reports:

Smartphone users, for starters, are much more commonly under the illusion that they have privacy even when walking down a public sidewalk. They're less skittish about having personal conversations in public. They're more detached from their physical surroundings. They're more likely to violate social norms about having disruptive, private phone conversations (and less likely to feel guilty about this).

That's important because, according to Nielsen, two-thirds of those who purchased a new mobile device in a recent three-month period selected a smartphone.


The intrusion of these devices at inappropriate times has even prompted some business owners to offer financial incentives and disincentives to discourage their use. Some examples: 

  • At Duke's Grill in Monroe, N.C., owner Dennis Parker asks people to leave if they use their phone. "And I'll take their food and I'll throw it away," he told the Fox station in Charlotte.
  • As has been widely reported, Eva Restaurant in West Hollywood, Calif., gives a 5% discount to those who surrender their cellphones to the staff. (Make sure it's password-protected before you hand it over.) Owner Mark Gold explained how that works on Marketplace:
We physically take their phone, we have a basket near the front desk. We put their name on it, we wrap it in a rubber band, and upon exiting the restaurant after their meal, we hand them their phones back.

These are far from the only restaurants that ban cellphones, and more are considering it. Does the movement have traction? A Facebook page called Ban Cell Phones From Restaurants, created in February, has only three "likes" so far. (Post continues below.)

How did we get to this point? It used to be that if you had company at your home, you wouldn't even answer the phone or would politely tell the calling party that you had visitors and that you'd call them back. Now the person on the other end of the phone gets priority.


That's true -- perhaps more so -- when texting rather than speech is involved. Perhaps offenders think that no one notices while they sit there typing away or that it's less rude than actually taking a call when they're with other people. Not so.


Here what a wiseGEEK post says, in part, about cellphone etiquette:

Just like taking a phone call in the middle of a conversation would likely be considered impolite, focusing on the phone's screen to check sports scores or email while talking to others is usually bad cellphone etiquette. If an email or text must be responded to, the cellphone user should apologize and excuse himself to do so privately.

Some may argue that being tethered to their mobile phone is a work requirement. The New York Times reported:

(Harvard professor Leslie) Perlow did a survey of 1,600 managers and professionals and found that only 2% turned off their devices, even while on vacation. But Professor Perlow discovered during her research that organizational change, even on a relatively small scale, could make a huge difference.

Perlow works with companies to help employees electronically disconnect in the evenings. (It's not as simple as just telling them to stop.) Employers realize that's good for their workers.


Or, perhaps some people don't realize they're being rude. I mentioned to my friend that I would be writing about her in this post, and she, without rancor, changed her behavior. Maybe a word to a friend is all that's needed.

Nah. That's wishful thinking in most cases.


I marveled when I read a Washington Post story about Katherine Losse, a former Facebook employee and "personal ghostwriter" for Mark Zuckerberg who became disenchanted with social media and moved eventually to tiny, artsy Marfa, Texas.


She's not nearly as connected as she used to be, but she still is.


"You can't get away from it. It's everything. It's everywhere," Losse told the Post. "The moment we're in now is about trying to deal with all this technology rather than rejecting it, because obviously we can't reject it entirely. We can avoid one site or another, but we can't leave our phones at home anymore."


And I say, why not?


More on MSN Money:

Sep 13, 2012 4:50PM
A few weeks ago I was shushed by a woman walking down the sidewalk in front of my house.  She was yakking on her cell phone, and I was trimming my yard.  She held up her hand, extended her forefinger and went, "Shhhhhhh!".  Like I should stop my yard work because she is having a conversation on her phone.  Yeh, right.  I'm always happy when I go into stores, restaurants, etc. that post signs that read, "Please refrain from using cell phones while you are here."
Sep 13, 2012 5:15PM
I remember when cell phones first came out. Most users back then would pull over in their cars when talking. We all know that  doesn't happen anymore. 

It's not just cell phone etiquette that's dying, it's etiquette in general, along with courtesy, manners and politeness. So many people now days have absolutely no respect toward others. What most people need is a big dose of humility and stop thinking they're more important than everyone else!!
If someone says hello then say hi back. If someone holds the door open for you then say thank you. If you're standing in line at a deli counter then get off the phone. Stop thinking of only yourself people and the world would be a better place.
Sep 13, 2012 5:41PM
A friend of mine used to join me for lunch but she would spend almost the whole time talking on the phone with various people. It got to the point where I finally stopped inviting her to have lunch with me. What's the point if she is going to be on her phone the whole time? I don't have a problem leaving my phone at home or turning it off when I need to, there is nothing anyone has to tell me that can't wait.
Sep 13, 2012 5:06PM
It's not just cell phones and texting it is everything in today's society that is ruder.  No one will give the right of way when driving, people cut ahead of you in line at the grocery store, if you reach the door at the same time someone on the other side does, they expect you to wait until they get through, sometimes pushing you out of the way.  Manners are a thing of the past.
Sep 13, 2012 5:23PM
There's a simple solution to this.  Tell the person they are rude, then get up and walk away.
Sep 13, 2012 7:45PM
As an emergency room nurse when a patient is on their phone and does not acknowledge my presence, it sends the message that they really are not that ill or in pain.  Time is precious commodity of anyone in the medical profession and patients that put private conversations first get moved the bottom of my to-do list.  They are not my only patient and most of the other patients welcome the sight of the nurse's availability to assist, medicate, or teach.  I usually rudely interrupt their conversation with the statement "When your health becomes priority over your conversations let me know, otherwise  I will return in 10 minutes."  Many times their call light goes on in less than 2 minutes but usually by that time I am on to another task and stop by their door to remind them I would return in less than 10 minutes.  Our patients that frequent the ER know to end conversations or just shut off the cell phone.  I am quite sure patients would not like me to carryon a private conversation or text while talking with them.
Sep 13, 2012 5:42PM

I agree:  Why CAN'T we leave our phones at home?  I went to visit an old friend, and we went out to a restaurant, and she sat there texting the whole time.  I was so offended by her behavior I had all I could do not to do a Gibbs to  know, snatch the phone and throw it across the room. 


 I still have only a landline.  Yeah, I can see some scenarios where a cellphone might be useful...but that's how it starts.  Before you know it, you're chained to the thing.  Thanks, but no thanks.

Sep 13, 2012 5:30PM

When did cell phone etiquette ever exist?  There seems to be people that have respect for people around them and those that don't.  When cell phones really started to take off it seemed the folks with a lack of respect were the first ones in line for cell phones.  I've never noticed much of a change.  As smart phones became more popular the rude have turned pro.

Sep 13, 2012 10:30PM
Cellphone etiquette? I'd just like to see some good, old fashioned manners, period. It's difficult to get a "please", "thank you",or "have a nice day" out of people these days.
Sep 13, 2012 6:40PM

The worst etiquette of all is talking on the cell phone while in the bathroom. I work on a college campus and I have been in stalls next to people farting and pooping while they were on the phone. Gross! Your friends and family do not need to hear me peeing next door and they certainly do not need to hear what you are doing. It is a HUGE invasion of privacy for everyone!

Sep 13, 2012 6:13PM
If you're going to make the effort to physically spend time with someone than turn off your phone, leave it at home, do whatever you need to do to pay attention to them.  Otherwise, why not just call them on your phone and chat away?  And unless you're reporting an imminent murder or a fire, trust me, it can wait a few minutes until after you've ordered lunch.
Sep 13, 2012 9:54PM
Our society is rapidly becoming "me first- you, not so much".  I agree with Capt. Willy.. Cellphone etiquette- the ultimate oxymoron.
Sep 13, 2012 7:08PM

Um.  I get the multi-tasking thing...a little.  I just cant get with it.  I believe all these devices, invented to bring us all closer together has had only the opposite effect.  So many of us have become so insular; therefore:  We all have.  Pixels cannot replace the sound of the voice, the look in the eye, or the real touch of interacting with someone. 

Some comments on here have said WE need to "get over it", that people text, "multi-task", "whats the big deal", and so on.  I disagree.  I feel YOU need to put the device away in favor of our expirience.  If you have to, just ask first, "sorry I need to take this...."   Do not interrupt our dinner (at $40 bucks a plate) to answer a text from girlfreind etc. 
The last woman who pulled this with me paid for her own meal.  You see, if I am throwing down 100 buck for dinner, I deserve (and demand) your interests, and attention.  It is just the correct way to share the time spent.  I was honest about it with her, I expressed it with kindness and kindly refused to pay for her meal.  Later, she asked for a re-do.  No problem. We had a lovely time and learned a great deal about each other.  Look, I am no where near important enough where I feel the need to immediately respond, the truth is; most of you are not either.  Just wait a while and get back to the person.  Try not to be surgically attached to your devices.  Just a thought.

Sep 13, 2012 9:25PM

I can't stand food shopping with people trying to use their phone and manuveur a cart. Then they park their cart in the middle of an isle while you have to get to an item, do you just push their cart? do you say excuse me and interupt their conversation? Just today some lady was yapping on her phone. I needed to get to an item and was in a hurry-I do have a life. I said excuse me while I reached around her cart to get the item, she said "sure" in a negative tone.  I just muttered loud enough for her to hear "Really"?  Was I in the wrong?!

Sep 13, 2012 9:54PM
 I have a real problem with people on the cell phone and i am trying to help them at my job. It has gotten so bad we have put up a sign no cell phones here. I was surprised how many people got angry. Maybe a little manners would go a long way. I think i will write a book cell phone etiquette and when to turn your cell phone off. 
Sep 13, 2012 6:55PM

I think when Cell Phones became commonplace it was the worst at the start. It seemed 80% of the cell phone users talked way louder than necessary and the "hold on" finger for friends, order takers, and any human being trying to accomplish something was invented. The early stages of text were almost a blessing in disguise. People could have conversations with the people they were with and still lob some information back to someone else. Smart phones are pulling people back to the ignoring everyone except Wolfsex2012 on Twitter that just made a clever comment about bagels. Society will never be the same. The person that is far away wins over people that are right in front of them. Texting still beats calls though by far. Text all you want during my movie but dont ever take an effin phone call. The only time I seriously contemplated murder was when 4 cell phones rang during a 6yr olds funeral. 2 people took the call. One lady in her 30's had a 3 minute conversation until an old man tried to make her realize she was the worst human being alive.

Sep 13, 2012 6:57PM
I don't know if the technology exists yet, but it would be nice if companies, such as restaurants, could buy hardware that would fully disable phones in a known space.  That would end the problem.
Sep 13, 2012 9:57PM
I don't even own a cell phone. The last time I even used a cell phone was the one the military signed out to me on those weekends where I was on standby. That was in early 2009 and I haven't missed it at all. Nobody needs that much contact from me. Not my friends, not my family and not my girlfriend. They all know the quickest way to tick me off is to open or even look at the phone while we're talking.

Whatever happened to the saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder"? If you're constantly texting or talking throughout the day, WTH do you have left to talk about once you're together? Anyone that has to talk that much or is that needy has no place in my life.

Sep 13, 2012 6:06PM

The title of this article should be "Cellphone Etiquette Still Dead" because, if it ever existed at all, it died over ten years ago. The only difference is that now people are doing more texting than talking, which in and of itself is pretty ridiculous when you think about it. What’s next? Are we going to revert back to using Morse Code to communicate rather than just having a real conversation? I remember a few years ago my mother invited some friends over for Thanksgiving dinner and while we were all sitting around talking in the living room they just couldn’t resist pulling out their iPhones and checking their e-mails, etc. And their teenage son actually had his laptop with him, which he used to get online right then and there. Staying connected at all times, and avoiding real human contact, seems to have become an addiction with most people these days. Don’t get me wrong I love my smart phone, but I don’t use it simply to be using it or out of habbit. And I certainly don’t try to text in place of having a real conversation. Phone texting was only ever meant to send some quick info off to someone, info that usually did not require a reply. Yet somehow as of late texting endlessly back and forth has somehow become the silly fad of the decade. And it is true that more and more people seem to think it should be acceptable to text in situations where even they think it would be rude to take a phone call. The truth is though its just as rude to text when checking out at the supermarket or when having lunch with friends (etc, etc.) as it is to take phone calls in those situations. In fact if I were on a date with a girl and she was either taking phone calls or answering text during the date I can guarantee you that there would not be a second date. I keep my own phone turned off during dates, assuming I even remembered to take it with me that is.

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