Etiquette and the mobile phone

When I was growing up I had a Walkman. I used to wear it everywhere and listen to music all the time.

Pretty much all of my teenaged life was punctuated by a constant Eighties Soul / Rare Groove sound track.

I, like many kids of my age, was told that the having my headphones on while walking down the street was adversely affecting my ability to react and interact with my surroundings.

“How can you walk down the street when you can not hear the people around you? You need to be more aware of your surroundings. Walkman, more like bump-into-a-man”

Our parents were right. Frequently, I barely avoided being knocked down by cars, bumping into people overtaking me on the street, and being reactive rather than proactively aware when walking down the street late at night.

The Walkman generation may have been walking around narrowly avoiding accidents while deliberately impairing our hearing, but that is nothing compared to inconsiderate rudeness of the smartphone generation.

The smartphone generation is not defined by age, they are defined by how they use their smatphone. Do they use them only when necessary? Do they use them as mobile music devices? Or do they use them as continual visual entertainment?

Combined with this behaviour, do they use their smartphone with the consideration of their surroundings? Or do they use them despite the need to be more socially aware, without consideration, and to the detriment of others?

Finally do they treat public spaces as a place to moderate their actions for the consideration of others, because they are in a shared environment? Or do they see public spaces as an extension of their private space, and choose to claim their surroundings by disturbing those around them.

The Walkmans may not have been able to hear our surroundings, be we were able to see them, unlike the current smartphone generation, that have earphone firmly planted in their ears and eyes firmly facing the pavement while they try to text, surf the net, watch videos, and everything else that takes their eyes away from being aware of their surroundings while attempting to walk down a busy crowded street.

Walking in public places should be a symphony, where all participants play their part. As a result there is a gentle wave-like motion of pedestrian movement, a harmony of pavement etiquette, as people glide in and out of each others orbit. Instead it is like a game of bumper cars with Stevie Wonder at the wheel.

I have seen people walking down a crowded street for two to three minutes without looking up from texting on their phone. Would you do that if you were driving a car down a high street?

If you are walking down the street, texting on your mobile phone and you bump into me…that is your fault. Do not then look at me as if to say “Watch where you are going” because my response will be “Were you?”

It never ceases to amaze me how much private information people are prepared to divulge in public environments, just because they are on the phone.

I have listened to intermit stories of love and desire, laughed at the passion and disappointment of others, even restrained myself from offering advice to others and correcting grammar, all by listening to the public broadcasted mobile phone conversations of others on my bus journey to and from work.

At one point I wrote down the bank and personal details of the person behind me on the bus as she carried out a transaction and handed them back to her, just to show her how much she had revealed in a public environment.

If you are publically broadcasting your business in a confined public environment, do not be surprised when people listen.

I have had people glare at me because I am overhearing to their mobile phone conversation, when the only way that I and the other members of the bus could NOT overhear it is if we each surrounded by 400watt speakers.

I have seen couples on dates with their mobile phones on the table, constantly checking to see whether they have missed a call or a message.

I have seen groups of friends, supposedly enjoying each others company, all sitting in a circle texting other people.

I have sat in meetings where somebody has gone to considerable effort to prepare a presentation, only to watch other supposed participants check their emails and play games.

I have also had dinner with friends, where the first thing they do is pull out their mobile phone and put it on the table. Are you expecting someone more interesting to call you?

For me, that is the height of rudeness. Unless you are expecting an important call about a sick relative or you are on call, put the phone away.

If a person has made the effort to come out of their house, sit at a table, and interact with you face to face, the least you can do is give them your full attention.

Put the phone back into your pocket or handbag. If you are worried about missing a call, then put the phone on vibrate or put it on the loudest setting so you can hear or feel it if it rings.

Constantly checking the phone will not make it ring, and if you are worried about missing a call, surely you are aware that the phone would light up in that instance, and if you miss that, then there is always voice mail and the flashing red light of attention.

In a public environment, my rule is that I would not say anything that I would not be prepared to shout through a megaphone, or make public on the internet.

In most Asian countries, when people speak on a mobile phone in public, they cover their mouth and the mouthpiece of the phone to limit the chance of being overheard. They also lower their voice because, unlike westerners, they are aware that there is a microphone in the device that allows them to be heard by the caller.

I have heard people talk to me in person using one volume, their phone would ring, and they would shout down the phone to the caller as if it were a tin can attached with string.

The definition of phone etiquette has been expanded within the 21st century as the places one may make and receive phone calls has increased. Also as the functions of phones have increase so should the unwritten rules behind their use in public.

Who will stand with me and make the streets safe to walk without being attacked by texters? Who will stand beside me and retake public spaces for all to use rather that just those that can shout down the phone the loudest? Who will….hey, get off the phone, I am talking to you.


~ by jeditopcat on 12 July, 2012.

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