Although telephony has been around for over a century, the use of mobile phones is a rather recent consumer phenomenon. Today, around 90 percent of adults in the United States use mobiles to maintain contact with family and friends, provide social stimulation, and keep records or fulfill some emergency needs.
Like many other new social phenomena, the growth in mobile usage has been matched by a set of social rules – mobile etiquette – about their use. A recent survey by Pew Research Center revealed that most Americans think that it is alright to use cellphones when walking on the street and on public transportation, but not in theatres, at restaurants, and during worship services.
More than 75 percent of the respondents said that is was socially acceptable to use a cellphone when walking or in public transportation. In contrast, over 95 percent said that it was unacceptable to use cellphones in quiet places like during meetings, in theatres, and during worship services, 88 percent in family dinners, and 68 percent in restaurants.
The do’s and don’ts of mobile phone etiquette
While mobile phones are convenient, these little gadgets can also cause serious offense. So, it is important to be aware of good mobile phone etiquette at all times.
- As observed in the Pew Research Center survey, there are a few situations in which the use of mobiles is totally inappropriate. In fact, you should switch off your phone in cinemas, theatres, art galleries, places of worship, courtrooms, and any other public spaces where silence is desired.
- No talking zones: It is common knowledge that you should never pick a call in an elevator, library, museum, cemetery, medical office, theatre, or any other enclosed public space. Also, don’t light up your phone’s screen – like when checking the time – in a dark theatre.
- Avoid annoying ringtones: What does it say about you? If you find your ringtone embarrassing in public situations, it means that it is not the right choice. Sometimes, programming your phone so a caller listens to a music selection instead of the usual tone can aggravate the caller.
- Follow the 10-foot proximity rule: To avoid disturbing people around you when answering a phone call in the open, try to maintain a minimum distance of 10 feet from the nearest person. This will also help to ensure that bystanders do not overhear your personal business. Forcing people to hear your phone conversations is a rude intrusion on their thoughts.
- Modulate your voice: Just because you are in the open does not mean that you should shout at or into the phone. Cell phones come equipped with sensitive microphones that can easily pick up soft voices while blocking out ambient noise. So, a quiet conversational tone is sufficient. If you lose the signal, shouting will not make your conversation any clearer. Simply call back when the reception gets better.
- Put away the phone when holding face-to-face conversations: Taking calls when you are already engaged in a face-to-face conversation gives the impression that you do not value the person in front of you. You should never take a personal call during a business meeting, interview, or in the middle of a conversation.
- If you must take a call, ask permission of the person with you as a display of respect.
- If you must have a phone conversation in a restaurant, don’t be rude to the waiter by pointing to a menu item and nodding your head. Give the waiter your attention, and then continue your conversation.
- It is rude to text during face-to-face conversations. Simply put your phone away when transacting, like in a shop, at the bank, or when buying tickets.
- Keep public conversations brief and short, and ask to get back to the caller when you get to a more private place.
- Avoid scrutinizing the screen while walking along the street. This can be dangerous, especially when wearing headphones. It impedes other pedestrians, and can cause accidents.
- Never answer a phone call or text when driving. Most calls can wait until you reach your destination, plus receiving disturbing information can affect your ability to drive safely.
- When using public transportation, avoid loud conversations, and only use your phone when you are unlikely to disturb other passengers.
- Mobile etiquette should also be observed in social settings. For instance, mobile phones should be put away at the dining table (at home or when eating out), and you should never text, answer phone calls, or even repeatedly glance at the screen in social situations. It is unacceptable.