Is It Ever Acceptable To FaceTime In Public?

Is It Ever Acceptable To FaceTime In Public?
Photo: Unsplash

Everyone’s got an opinion about everyone else’s terrible tech manners: how you should behave online, when and where it’s ok to use your phone, which emoji are acceptable at work, whether that email was rude or just terse. We’re looking to put these divisive issues to rest, or at least to offer a voice of reason in a an unreasonable world.

Today’s question comes to us from Lifehacker’s Facebook page. Alicia B. asks:

When is it acceptable to take a FaceTime call in a public space without headphones? I feel like the answer is ‘never,’ but the people I’ve encountered in coffee shops obviously don’t agree with me.

Dear Alicia,

You are absolutely correct: It is not acceptable to FaceTime in a coffee shop without headphones. I’d go so far as to say it is not acceptable to FaceTime in a coffee shop with headphones. My rule of thumb is, “Anywhere a group of strangers are seated together is a bad place to talk on the phone.” So that means restaurants of any kind. Movie theatres. Outdoor cafe terraces. Buses. Planes before takeoff. The doctor’s waiting room. You get it.

“But everyone else is talking to each other in the coffee shop,” some boor might protest. “Why is it so horrible if I talk on my phone? Why can’t I FaceTime my girlfriend while I enjoy my latte?”

And to this boor I say, you know as well as I do that study from 2010 that found “overhearing half a conversation — a “halfalogue” — is more distracting than other kinds of conversations because we’re missing the other side of the story and so can’t predict the flow of the conversation.”

And we tend to talk louder when we’re talking on the phone, which is why your FaceTime conversation is distinguishable from the hum of everyone else talking to people in the same room.

Where it’s OK to FaceTime

So what public places are ok for FaceTiming? You can FaceTime in the park if you’re not at a concert. Or standing outside the movie theatre. You can FaceTime in line at the supermarket if you absolutely must, but it’s not making anyone else in line’s life better — while we’re all technically standing so you’re not violating my rule, it’s still antisocial and annoying. You can FaceTime while walking down the street if you think you can actually keep moving and not trip or slow the foot traffic or get wander into traffic (you probably can’t).

The only 100 per cent acceptable place to FaceTime is at home or in another enclosed place where only people interested in or party to the call are within earshot.

You’re right, but don’t be an a-hole about it

Once upon a time, people didn’t have phones to even glance at in the airline waiting area or the bar where they were waiting for a friend, so they actually spoke to each other. Not only is it rude to talk on the phone or FaceTime in public places, it’s kind of a bummer. We’re lonely, we feel disconnected, etc. etc. but it’s within our power to actually connect with the people next to us.

The terrible thing about having good manners is everyone else is such a lout. How are we supposed to resist anarchy when only some of us are devoted to putting our phones away at the symphony? I am frustrated by this too, but beg you to resist using your good manners as a bludgeon with which to beat up on the guy FaceTiming in the restaurant.

Ask your server if they would ask him to step outside. Don’t roll your eyes and sigh loudly hoping he notices you’re irritated and reforms his behaviour. “Counter-etiquette” — the use of etiquette to make other people feel bad — may help you feel superior, but in the end it’s just another form of rudeness. You can be correct and also be kind.


  • Just don’t know why people facetime in the first place and just look at each other. Unless its family or you are showing something like where you are or who you are with, what’s the point. Remember seeing a lady walking through a store and she was face timing but wasn’t even looking at the phone. Just as bad as people who use the speakerphone. Be sitting in a waiting room and they feel the need to let everyone know about how their day is and what they are having for lunch or gossip, I don’t care and it’s annoying.

    • I can kinda see the appeal for small children – “Who’s that?” “Ooh, granny’s on the screen!” – but every single video call I’ve been unfortunate to witness have been between two adults, doing nothing of interest, with the camera pointing directly up their nose.

  • I see it as the same as taking a phone call.

    If its not appropriate to take a phonecall then is not for facetime either.

    e.g. a packed train. Nothing worse than the one moron broadcasting their phone call to the entire train.

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