Smartphone use creates etiquette challenge

It’s OK to use your smartphone walking down the street or on public transportation. But not at a family dinner. And definitely not in church.

Users of mobile devices are struggling to find the rules of the road for how and when to use the devices around others, but a survey out on Wednesday shows a surprising consensus.

The Pew Research Center found 77 per cent of Americans polled felt it was acceptable to use a smartphone while strolling down the street. Three-fourths also said it was OK on public transit or while waiting in line at the store.

But 88 per cent said a family dinner was not an appropriate place for phone use and most said the same about a meeting (94 per cent), the movie theatre (95 per cent) and a place of worship (96 per cent).

But survey respondents did not always practise what they preached.

Eighty-nine per cent said they used their phone during a social gathering – 61 per cent to read a text message or email, 58 per cent to take a photo or video, 52 per cent to receive a call, and 25 per cent to surf the web, for example.

Etiquette has become a challenge as more people keep their smartphones on and with them at all times, Pew noted.

Pew found 92 per cent of US adults now have a mobile phone of some kind, with two-thirds owning a smartphone. About 90 per cent of them say their phone is always with them. Thirty-one per cent say they never turn their phone off and 45 per cent say they rarely turn it off.

“This ‘always-on’ reality has disrupted longstanding social norms about when it is appropriate for people to shift their attention away from their physical conversations and interactions with others, and towards digital encounters with people and information that are enabled by their mobile phone,” said Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of internet research.

“These are issues with important social consequences. Norms of etiquette are not just small-scale social niceties. They affect fundamental human interactions and the character of public spaces.”

The survey found that conduct that might have been considered rude in the past is now gaining acceptance.

Two-thirds of mobile phone owners frequently or occasionally look up information about where they are going or how to get there, and 70 per cent co-ordinate get-togethers with others using their device.

About 23 per cent of mobile phone owners say that when they are in public spaces they use their device to avoid interacting with others.

The survey found younger adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are most tolerant of public mobile device usage.

But Rainie noted that “Americans of all ages generally trend in the same direction about when it is okay or not to use cells in public settings”.

He said that fully public venues are viewed by all age groups as generally acceptable places to use a phone, but that “usage in quiet or more intimate settings is mostly frowned upon by all”.

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