Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 11.20

I leave my cell phone off when meeting people in a social setting. I don’t want to offend my companions by having it ring or buzz while they are talking. And you’ll never find me making calls or sending text messages in the middle of a conversation. I think it’s rude.

But I’ve been in the company of others who have no problem with it. They spend more time taking calls and text messaging than they spend conversing with me. It’s like they’re telling me I’m not important enough to have their full attention. It’s kind of insulting.

Now, I’m willing to concede that I may just be a bit old fashioned in this regard, but the observation is no less accurate.

And on a related matter, it’s difficult for me to believe that every single person with a cell phone jammed to his or her ear while driving (and endangering others) needs to be on the phone at that particular moment. How much of what we need to communicate to other people is so important or time-sensitive that we risk other people’s safety? I’d wager most of it can wait. And I’d wager further that a majority of the “driving cell phone conversations” I witness on a daily basis are excruciatingly mundane and probably irrelevant to anything.

So what do you think:

Has the proliferation of personal contact devices had an adverse effect on manners; are “courteous” and “considerate” yesterday’s fads? And, has the ease at which we can connect with others using these devices distorted our sense of what’s important?

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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68 Comments

  1. Don’t get me started….

    I accept many of the executives do have valid reasons to text during meetings but I secretly believe they also do it to inflate their sense of importance.

    Not only is a person saying “this message is more important than you” they are also saying “look how much more important I am than you”.

  2. @PrimevilKneivel:

    Yes, I agree with you here. I often text during meetings myself. It’s a great way to multi-task without disturbing everyone around you. But I reserve those moments for business settings. In social settings, I figure the other person (or people) has taken the time to meet me, I can at least give them my full attention.

  3. As a 21-year old senior in college, I sort of grew up in the age of cell-phones and am part of the generation that started the text messaging craze (or so we like to think.)

    Now, I will admit that I will occasionally text while with people. I only do it with people I am extremely comfortable with. I apologize to people I do not know as well if I am forced to answer a call. I am more lax with texting because it is not as obtrusive as actually talking on the phone.

    Personally, I consider it very rude when someone suddenly pulls their phone out of their pocket and answers a call without notifying me that they will be doing so. I can understand if they look at their phone, see it is someone important, then say that they have to take this call. I can not stand it when people just answer their phone mid-sentence. Don’t get me started on the people who talk on the phone while in the check lanes at stores…

  4. I think it depends on the situation. During business meetings, text messages and e-mails on a PDA can be kept discreet, and sometimes that stuff can’t or shouldn’t wait.

    During social settings, it depends on the group, I think. If I go visit friends, we usually all have our cell phones near us, and occasionally we’ll text or answer a phone call. In moderation it’s not that big of a deal, especially if everyone is at a house just hanging out. I think for those of us 30 and younger, it’s pretty common and not rude.

    BUT, it can become rude if you overdo it. A friend of mine is ALWAYS — AAALLLWAYS — on her cell, chatting or texting. It’s really effing annoying. She spends the ENTIRE NIGHT on her phone. It’s not just near for an occasional text, she’s literally on it the entire time. That is rude.

    My local post office has a sign that says: “If you are on your phone, we will gladly serve the next person in line.”

    Love it.

  5. @thundergod: See, I like my cell phone (I just got a Blackjack woo!) because it’s a way for me to keep in contact without having to physically be there. Most of my friends and I communicate via text or e-mail, and even MySpace. We’re not big on talking on the phone. And if I don’t want to be contacted, I just turn it on silent. In fact, it’s almost always on vibrate and I just toss it aside (it’s currently in my car) if I want to be left alone.

    People seem to think that if you receive a call or text you have to respond RIGHT NOW! But I’m of the mind that I can respond whenever I want. :)

  6. Has the proliferation of personal contact devices had an adverse effect on manners; are “courteous” and “considerate” yesterday’s fads?
    No. I think people who were likely to be rude before are going to fin ways to be rude now… but I also think that intent is important… I leave my cell phone on at a social setting, but I don’t always answer it.

    And, has the ease at which we can connect with others using these devices distorted our sense of what’s important?
    I don’t think so. I think so some people staying constantly connected IS important.

    Everything in moderation though

  7. @Geran Smith: Pretty much this. If I’m with a group of friends that I’m comfortable with, I don’t see it as a big deal, but that’s probably because we all have cell phones and all do it. And we can all multi-task and text while still being 100% present.

  8. I don’t think manners are no longer applicable, or yesterday’s news. But I do think that manners, like everything else, have to evolve with society. Many things once considered rude or inconsiderate have had to go out the window due to convenience or other changes throughout history. Look at the differences in standards for a family dinner at one of our homes versus that of our grandparents for all sorts of examples. I suspect this is something similar.

    In my case, I text quite frequently on my phone. However part of the reason is I still find it far less of an interruption than a phone call. I’ll frequently silence an incoming call while having a conversation, only to text or e-mail the caller to explain why I’m unavailable. I’m quite capable of multitasking and tracking both my conversation and the text message, so this is easy for me.

    I do make an effort to keep it to a minimum whenever possible, though, as I understand how it comes across. And I think I’m quite successful at that. And I’ll typically remove the bluetooth headset (some seem to hate these things with a passion, but when you’re in IT both hands are vital) and set the phone to vibrate when in a social situation to further accentuate this point. But I’m far too connected a person to turn it off completely, or ignore it entirely. The people not with me are often just as important to me as those who are. Is this a social failing of mine that I can’t focus fully on who I’m with at the exclusion of all others? I’m not convinced.

    As for talking on the phone while driving, well, it’s very hard to accurately judge someone’s motives for doing so. In California we’re required to use handsfree kits, which supposedly reduces the dangers (I disagree), or at least frees up both hands. I know I end up frequently on the phone while driving, but again, this is a symptom of my connected life.

    For one thing, much of the time I spend driving I end up having to be involved with work. I have a lot of associates calling me for help or to discuss progress, and my commute is sometimes between one to three hours. Being unavailable for that long would do some damage to business.

    The other factor is that working as many hours as I’m forced to, and commuting as much as I do, I get relatively little time at home with my wife and kids. And seven years into our marriage, my wife and I still rarely go more than a couple of hours without talking. So sometimes these car rides at the longest period of uninterrupted time we have available to talk about the day’s events. And I wouldn’t give that up.

    I think my overall theme, though, is the classic progress versus ingrained tradition. Things that shake up the way we’re used to things working give us trouble, but the reality is that they have to change, and will, and those of us who won’t adjust will be in for a shock. Didn’t Douglas Adams have a great quote about that phenomenon?

  9. @marilove:

    My local post office has a sign that says: “If you are on your phone, we will gladly serve the next person in line.”

    That’s awesome!

    Yeah, I’m a little older than you and Geran Smith, and I understand that the degree to which this type of behavior is tolerated is going to be different because of the circumstances of age. And to be honest, when I’m with my regular buds, it’s no big deal for one of us to take a call or send a text in the middle of the shit shooting. I’m mean, it’s just shit shooting, and not important to anything anyway. So no big deal. We won’t hesitate to lay down some good heckle on the dude that does it, but still, no big deal.

    Where it bothers me is in social settings where you are not with your regualr crew. Perhaps on a first date, or in a situation where you’re meeting your brother’s fiance, etc. You know, situations where being courteous should be the default?

  10. @Sam Ogden: I laughed when I saw that sign. I was like “RIGHT ON!” I *hate* when people chat on the phone while in line at a store or something. That is one of my pet peeves, and I’m pretty relaxed about cell phone use in general.

    And yeah, with your normal group of friends, no one is probably going to care, as long as you aren’t having a serious heart-to-heart or something.

    But when out to dinner at a nice restaurant, or meeting parents, or something a little less casual, I agree it’s a little rude to constantly be attached to your cell, unless it’s really important.

    A friend of a friend is ALWAYS on his cell because of his business — he’s pretty much on call all the time. However, even he finds a way to put the thing away when we’re eating at a restaurant.

  11. You’re at a party, chatting with Friend A. Friend B comes up and says, “Hey! How’s the family/job/blog?” It is rude to ignore Friend B. It is rude to ignore Friend A. The polite corse of action is to either include Friend A into your conversation with Friend B OR to excuse yourself from Friend A while you talk with Friend B.

    That is how I use texting. If I’m talking with Friend A and get a text from Friend B, I either share with Friend A or I excuse myself.

  12. I think it’s a lot like what I recently said to my 9 year old daughter about swearing.

    I told her that I’m not so concerned by the language that she uses but rather that I’m concerned about the settings that she chooses to use such language. If she has control when she needs it then I don’t really care (or pretend I can control) what she says in the school yard. Though I did remind her she’d be in trouble if a teacher complained to me about the language she uses.

  13. @slxpluvs: You excuse yourself when texting? I rarely do that, because I can text and chat at the same time. Usually texting takes only a few seconds, and there is no interruption of the conversation at all.

    I hardly even notice when someone else does it, either.

    I think most people my age and younger are pretty good at multi-tasking, though, and we’re all used to having our cell phones with us.

  14. @Sam Ogden: I agree with the first date and first meetings thing. I silence my phone if I do not know someone well. I considered it a major turn-off if a girl took out her phone on a first date and started texting. When I am with just my current girlfriend (IE on a date), I put my phone on silent, and check it when it is convenient for both of us.

  15. @marilove: Us young-ish folks have become good at multi-tasking. I think it sort of comes with the territory these days. I can’t even imagine a world where I would have to call a house anymore… I am so used to being connected all the time. I feel sort of weird if my phone isn’t within arms reach. It may be on silent, but I like knowing it is there.

  16. To the people who abandon real-life conversations to talk on their cell-phone or send texts, you are being rude by ignoring your cellphone! The cellphone is more real to them than the person standing in front of them. They have grown accustomed to having telephone contact at a moment’s notice at any time. They are actually trying to be polite. By switching off your cellphone… EVER… you are sending a message (in their worldview) that you are not available. And they, knowing the other parties are as impatient and addle-brained as they are, know that if they don’t pick up the cellphone immediately, they are in danger of offending the calling party.

  17. @marilove: Or maybe I just hang out with a bunch of nerds. Now that I think about it, that’s kind of what it is.

    I’ll be hanging out at a friends’ house this weekend, and the three of them have 4 computers set up in a public space (including a “guest” computer), and it’s not unusual for us to occasionally plop down in front of one of the computers and check our e-mail or change whatever music is playing or check out youtube and share whatever it is we’re nerding out on, all the while a bunch of us are still hanging out and chatting. We don’t think it is rude at all.

  18. @marilove:

    I hardly even notice when someone else does it, either.

    Well, I’m not disagreeing, but I will point out that some people do notice. And I think that may be another function of age.

    Younger people may be conditioned to incorporate text messaging into social discourse more, and therefore don’t notice it as much when someone whips out a phone or pda and starts going to town.

    Other people notice it immediately, and even hesitate to continue with the conversation because they’re not sure if it’s an important call coming in or if they’ve just lost a face-to-face/cell phone face off.

  19. @ronstrelecki: I like being connected, but I also like the freedom of not answering a text or call. I have never been accused of being rude for texting whilst hanging out with friends, nor have I ever been accused of being rude for not answering a call or text right away.

  20. @Sam Ogden: Yeah, that’s true. When I visit my dad and he takes me out to the Elk’s Lodge for a charity dinner, as he likes to do, I will usually keep my phone on silent in my purse, because I know the older folks think it is rude, and I’m fine with that.

    (My dad is as attached to his cell phone as I am, so he doesn’t care, but some of his friends are pretty old fashioned.)

  21. @Brian’s A Wild Downer: I’m talking about when you get up to do the transaction, not actually waiting in line, sorry I didn’t make that clear.

    It’s rude to have the phone ON YOUR EAR when you go up to the counter. It was really annoying when I worked in retail many years ago, because half the time the person yapping on the phone has no idea what is going on during the transaction.

    If you’re on the phone while in line, when your turn comes close, just say, “Hold on, I have to pay the cashier” or “I’ll call you right back, I’m at the store.”

    Does that make sense?

  22. @Sam Ogden: And let me say, it CAN become rude and bothersome. Like I mentioned above, a friend of mine has a bad habit of constantly being on her phone, texting and talking. Even amongst my constantly-connected friends, we’ve recognized that it’s rude.

  23. Oh, this is a complicated thing, when we start talking about concepts like connectedness and politeness.

    In social situations, I’ll leave my phone silent; but the potential I’ll be needed for a real emergency means I will check to see who’s calling/texting, and excuse myself if it’s possibly urgent.

    I won’t chatter on if it turns out not to be, and I’ll apologize for the interruption.

    People who don’t respect each other’s time and attention are being rude; but it’s important to respect the person with the phone, too — maybe something important is going on, and they need to be reachable.

    It’s a fine line, and one for which no general rule will really suffice. The best advice is to talk to your acquaintances if the behavior bothers you;

  24. @Darren:

    So this is a good place to segue into the second part of the question. What about the issue of what is important enough to tell others?

    Has our sense of what is and is not important been compromised because of the ease at which we can reach out and spew every little thing that’s crosses our minds?

    Or are some people simply habitual users of their pet device and unable not to text or call?

  25. Cell phones just give asshats more opportunities to be asshats. People who interrupt conversations to answer their cellphone are exactly the same sort of self-involved individuals who would interrupt a conversation for a 100 other reasons. There are exceptions, of course. I was talking to one guy when his wife went into labor. He said “I’m sorry. I have to take this.” I agreed completely.

    As for myself I have a cell phone with me at all times and it is off at all times except when I know someone is trying to reach me or meet me. This happens about once a month.

    For people who use a cell phone as infrequently as I do T-Mobile has an awesome deal. You give them $100 for 1000 minutes and about $35 for a phone. This gets you “gold” status. After this any minutes you buy automatically extend your unused minutes for another year. I’ve given them $135 + $10 + $10 over the last three years and I still have 100’s of minutes left. I know some people who spend $155 on their cell phone in two months. I’ll be very sad if this deal ever ends.

  26. I definitely try to go out of my way not to be on the phone in line but my standard breaks down when I’m speaking to my boyfriend. We don’t see or talk to each other much since he’s a law student three hours away. So if I have him on the phone, I get pretty upset when he hangs up when he gets to the grocery store.

    In general, though, I just don’t like being on the phone at all.

  27. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I possess an iPhone (and I actually got it LAST YEAR, which made me feel like an über-trendy yuppie) – but you’ll never see me even talking in public on it, let alone when I’m in a social situation. And hell, I’m one of those people who insists on having my phone actually make a RINGING sound when I get an incoming call.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in doctor’s offices or concert lobbies where there are giant signs saying NO CELL PHONES and yet people sit there chatting animatedly to somebody about (as far as I can tell) absolutely nothing at all. So yes, manners are going the way of the dodo, the way I see it.

  28. I have more than a little Luddite in me so I am usually a late adopter of new technology. I definitely fall on the side of “you rude pig” when it comes to people using cell phones when the meatware is sitting right across from them.
    One of my favorite stories is a Ray Bradbury story called “The Murderer”. It posits a society in which everyone is constantly in immediate communication with everyone else via wrist phones (this is Bradbury so the stories pretty old); there is Musak everywhere; TV’s playing in the busses. Heck, even the houses talk to you to tell you when to get up, go to the bathroom, eat dinner.
    The ‘Murderer’ finally just snaps and begins to methodically destroy every electronic device he comes across.
    Eventually he ends up in an asylum because no one can understand why he would not want to be constantly tethered to his phone.
    I work in IT and I am constantly tethered to a phone. I can absolutely see why we must rise up against our telecommunication overlords.

  29. @SkepLit: I think the moral of that story is more about respecting boundaries and people’s individual choices than rising up against communication technologies (although it’s obvious there’s a cautionary note about being saturated in a/v stimulus. Bradbury is why I stopped watching TV when I was fourteen in a house with three of them that were always, and still are always, on).

    @Kimbo Jones: I agree.

  30. #55: mahlersoboes – I am always amazed by the cellphone non-conversations I witness in public. People sitting with their cellphones to their ears saying absolutely nothing at all. They must be listening to someone else talk and talk and talk, but sometimes I suspect they are either holding their phone to their ear so no one bothers them, or they are sitting silently on the line with someone else who is also saying nothing.

    An amusing thing I noticed when bluetooth first appeared. People had, by then, grown accustomed to seeing people walking along talking on cell phones. When bluetooth showed up, all of a sudden, people were just walking along and talking for no apparent reason. So, I noticed a lot of people holding their hand up to their face as if they had a cellphone while using their bluetooth as if to say, “I’m not crazy, I’m talking on the phone.”

  31. @ronstrelecki: I will sometimes put my phone up to my ear, and sometimes go as far as pretending to have a conversation, if I don’t want to be bothered. I used to do this ALL THE TIME on public transportation, because I didn’t want to be harrassed by dudes who have no sense of bounderies. I also used to do this a lot because an old neighbor of mine would constantly corner me and chat with me for like, 15 minutes, when I got home from work, even if I REALLY HAD TO PEE.

    It is a wonderful trick.

  32. I have a cell phone only because I spend half of my working life fearing I’m going to lose my job. Thus, my resume is always out (contact me at [email protected] if you need a tech writer) and I regularly refresh it. However, I do not compulsively check it, ignore it when rings while I’m communicating with a live human being and detest it when people ignore me to talk on the phone. Maybe I’m old school, but it’s rude in my book. (Besides, I really don’t give a damn what your colonoscopy showed and I doubt the person you’re talking to cares, either. What is it with people and these previously-private conversations now being shouted out to the entire shopping mall on a cell phone?)

    I have no crackberry and don’t ever want one, because I firmly believe it is:
    1) seriously overused as a techie prop by self-important people and
    2) a tangible sign of evil in the world.

    The only time I need to be in contact with everyone 24/7 is if I’m ever elected President of the US and someone just launched a full nuclear missle strike on us or if there is a family emergency brewing.

  33. @marilove: Cellphones do have powers in the social sphere. I can actually imagine using a cellphone to avoid many uncomfortable situations. I mostly use them as a tool to politely ignore begging panhandlers. “I voted for Obama, but F**K OFF HOBO” is so rude and doesn’t fit at all with my self-image. The fact that the cellphone works to ward off subway boundary violators when all the traditional methods fail really speaks to the iconic power of the device. They respect the sanctity of the phone.

    The old device used for this trick was the Walkman which revolutionized public behavior at the time. Just twenty-five years ago, negotiating a public space involved an endless stream of pointless conversations, nods, eye contact, waves, etc… etc… Each one having the potential for a social blunder or an unequal response. The Walkman gave you an excuse for not waving at the guy-who-puts-Pepsi-in-the-machine-by-where-you-smoke, or similar situations. But it came at a price. You would be seen as sort of a social clod, and you lost awareness of your environs.

    The faux cell phone call delivers the best of both worlds… an excuse with no social cost.

  34. Everything has it’s time and place, but when in a situation where social interaction with those immediately around you should take precedent ( and yes, that can be argued because it’s a subjective arguement ) it’s absolutely, positively rude. Am I old school? I am chronologically, but not usually in how I think or act. The fact that I had to actually put up a sign in each room ( I’m a physician ) to TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE convinced me that we had a problem. I didn’t want to be the first doc to do a pelvic exam or a hernia exam while my patient texted a message.

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