When To Whip It Out: A Guide To Using Phones In Social Situations

We’ve been rocking the oh-so-sexy mobile phone pocket-bulge for close to two decades. You’d think we’d have figured out how to use the things without pissing everyone off by now. Nope.

According to an Intel survey of mobile phone users, that’s not the case. As our phones have become smarter, we’ve become dumber about how we use them. When Intel asked 2000 users if they were irritated by public mobile phone usage, 92 per cent gave ‘em a resounding hell yeah. In fact, 75 per cent of respondents felt that mobile manners are worse now than they were a year ago.

And 77 per cent admitted to acting a fool themselves — you know, using mobile phones at weddings, funerals, doctors’ offices, on dates and on public transit, etc. We KNOW we’re in the wrong, but somehow, we can’t help but live tweet from the birthing room. Just, Eww. Clearly we need help.

Offence: The ill-timed Foursquare checkin

Ever since you became mayor of the local supermarket, your competitive drive seems to have wiped away your manners. Or at least your sense of romance. Fact: One of the most magical moments in dining out is the initial impression. You know the scene: You both sit — maybe you scoot the chair in for her — the waiter hands you your menus; you both look around, and she smiles softly at you. It’s lovely, you’re ruining the moment by staring at your phone, and no, that Overshare badge you just earned isn’t going to impress her enough to make up for it.

Fortunately, you can check in at any point during the evening, so just wait till she breaks to powder her nose to un-holster your sidearm. Chances are she’ll go at least once during dinner, but you can up your chances by keeping her wine glass full. WIN/WIN!

Offence: A glowing mobile phone in a dark theatre steals attention from the show

That PSA of the opera lady getting interrupted by a ringing phone has become the modern-day stand-in for that “let’s go out to the lobby and get ourselves a snack” dancing hot dog jingle. Nobody needs to remind Americans to get a bucket of greezy popcorn (we’ve got that covered, thank you very much). If a movie or high school production of Les Mis starts to suck, out come the phones for casual games and #fail tweets. No matter how much you want to escape, you shouldn’t subject others to the epic glow of your mobile screen. Step into the lobby before you bust out your phone. And if you’re stuck at a live performance? Suck it up till intermission.

If you must use your phone during a show (and this better mean you’re a head of state or *professional* movie critic taking notes), do the rest of the audience a favour and dim your screen down as far as it will go. If you’ve got an Android phone, You can use the app Screen Filter to dim the hell out of your glowing window to teh Innernet. (Bonus: dim screen = two or three more scenes’ worth of FPS Pwnage.)

Offence: Interrupting quality time by screwing around with your mobile phone

When is it OK to bust out your phone in the company of friends? Size up your audience and the situation you’re in. Anna Post of the Emily Post Institute says, “Most of us know the friends that we’re close enough to that we can be a bit fluid with mobile device usage. The key is to know who those people are and *when* we can do that. A nice dinner? Not ok. Watching football, probably OK. It depends on who you’re with.”

So, if you’re hanging with a busy little member of Gen Y? Knock yourself out; it’s likely that these consta-texters won’t take issue with your divided attention. But if you’re with someone you’re trying to impress or show respect to, (a foxy lady, your mother, your boss), then it’s best to shut your phone up and give them the face time they deserve. (Note: face time, not FaceTime.) After all, they made an effort to be there — that should take priority over liking an Instagram of a brick wall.

If you can’t go an entire social session without hoppin’ on the tubes, you need to slake your data thirst in such a way as to not ruin whatever you’re doing for everyone else: Take a break to tap the ole touchscreen. Step outside, take an extra moment in the bathroom, or duck into the kitchen for another beer and a quick tweet.

If you’re at dinner with a significant other, you can even agree ahead of time to a phone break. Maybe while you’re reclining in a food coma and waiting for the check to arrive.

If someone you’re with is giving more attention to their phones than to you, Post advises to simply stop talking until they give you back their attention. “Don’t do it in a pointed, nasty way — be quiet for a second instead of going ‘uh-huh’ while you’re talking; they’re going to realise oops I actually have to say something now.”

Offence: The too-public work call that’s really nobody else’s business

The world is our oyster? Ha! Look around airports, the golf course and doctor’s office waiting rooms: If anything, the world is our office. The best thing our phones provide us is the convenience to get and give information whenever, wherever. Sometimes, convenience shouldn’t be our priority; strangers don’t want to hear you dictate a TPS report. Hey dude, just because you’re wearing a Bluetooth headset, doesn’t mean your mouth isn’t making sounds.

You need to knock the dust off of that good old-fashioned common sense! Before you start discussing the contents of the supply closet from the wilds of Gate 34A, ask yourself, is this really essential? As Post says, “there’s a difference between what’s really essential and what’s just simply convenient”. Perhaps you can send a text message. Or an email. Or if the information really has to be conveyed verbally, saunter on over to a secluded spot away from your fellow human beings, and speak as quietly as you can. In other words, We can hear you now, so STFU. (And PS: No. Speaking louder will not boost you signal.)

Offence: Smartphoning and driving – illegal by order of the manners police

The driver’s seat is not the place to multitask. Studies show [PDF]we’re not nearly as good at it as we think we are. And when behind the wheel, one slip-up can prove deadly. See: Dr Frank Ryan (the man who sculpted Heidi Montag’s breasts, chin, nose, butt, thighs and so much more). He was allegedly texting while driving when he ran his car off PCH and died.

And if the possibility of a gruesome death isn’t enough to warn you away from mobile, er, mobiling, just imagine what the passenger will think! 73-percent of those Intel surveyed rated using mobile devices as a pet peeve. (Possibly due to that chance of a gruesome death?)

When the most polite “be there in five minutes” text can turn deadly, and when the temptations to pick up our phones can be too great to resist (hello, gridlock traffic), it’s best to relinquish control to an app that disables incoming texts and calls while you’re on the road. Some will even auto-text your peeps back to let them know you’re driving and will holler at ‘em when you’ve reached your destination. Try DriveSafe.ly (text and email dictation while behind the wheel), iZup (holds all texts, tweets, emails, and calls until the car has stopped) or Dial2Do (voice recognition software for Android and Blackberry that allows users to send, listen and reply to emails and text messages, and record reminders for themselves hands-free while behind the wheel).

Offence: Loved ones complain that you’re too slow to respond to messages

Your clingy boyfriend gets pissy when you don’t text him back immediately or send his calls to voicemail. But you shouldn’t take his call when you’re in a meeting, at the cash register, or on the train.

The same goes for the friend who wants the number of your car detailing guy – you don’t have to drop everything to accommodate his request. You can wait; 24 hours is a reasonable time to follow up on a friend’s query. Post agrees: “We can all find time within a day to help a friend. But at that exact moment? No.”

You should, however, have a talk with anyone who expects your attention on demand. Make sure they know that they matter to you, but that you can’t be there every second of the day for them. For those who email incessantly, revive a classic trick. Set “out of office replies” for times you know you’ll be busy. Tell recipients that you’re on the road, in meetings all day or otherwise occupied and to expect a slower response time.

No matter what the scenario, common sense will outsmart the smartest of smartphones and the best of apps. “The biggest problem is that no device will be as smart as you are; it’s never going to be able to sense the situation you’re in and how people around you are going to be bothered by your usage,” says Post. “Only you’re intelligent enough to do that. Which means you’re ultimately in control.”

Erika Stalder is an author and advice columnist. Check out her other work at erikastalder.com.

Original artwork by Christopher Hartelius. For more of Chris’s work and other true news stories, please check out his website, True American Dog.

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