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Phone etiquette in the digital age

What does proper phone etiquette look like in our modern age? That's exactly what we hope to answer in this feature exploring phone etiquette.

Published onSeptember 14, 2017

We’ve all had that moment – you know, you’re attempting to have a conversation but that person next to you has their nose buried into their phone. Rude! Or is it? What is rude? What isn’t? These are questions many have asked themselves over and over about phone etiquette. I believe it’s safe to say we haven’t been able to morally catch up with the digital age, and so our smartphone manners continue to evolve along with technology.


In a world where communicating and finding any information you want is only a hand’s reach away, it’s easy to get lost in that shiny screen. Should we set the record straight once and for all? Because some of these bad smartphone manners are really starting to get to me! So let’s jump in and take a closer look at phone etiquette.

Put that thing away!


When it comes to proper phone etiquette, it’s OK to look around Facebook during your downtime or send an email here and there, but in some situations this action is really uncalled for. You can guess what I am talking about, right? Just put that thing away when you are on a date, eating dinner with someone, in a meeting or watching a movie at the theater. Those are only a few examples. If you feel like a person or moment is important, your phone should not take priority.

Maybe in some cases it’s alright to glance at what’s going on. You know, many have families and kids. One never knows when an important situation or emergency may arise. But please leave it at that, and try to apologize if you must really use the phone.

Don’t swipe through a friend’s photo gallery

Most people I know hate this. No one wants a friend snooping through his/her photos. If someone hands you a phone to look at a picture, just stay in the same image. You don’t know what kind of naughty stuff your friend may have. Hey, you probably don’t even want to see what there is beyond that cat photo! Curiosity may just kill it.

At least try to ask first, if you really think you should see what’s going on past the picture you were shown. Doing so is great phone etiquette after all.

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There is definitely such a thing as taking way too many pictures

Talking about pictures… some people really need to stop wasting away shutters. I understand – memories are beautiful and important. But really, they become much more mundane if you take a picture of literally everything. Not to mention you may just miss some of the best moments of your life by trying to capture them.

Here’s a phone etiquette rule you shouldn’t ignore: If you are spending time with people, enjoy them first and then take time for a good selfie. If you are in a concert, try to enjoy the music and stop creating so many distractions for people behind you. Take in the view before snapping 20 photos of the same skyline. Take this as an advice from a fellow avid photographer. Images always come out better when you have already lived them.


On sharing photos

Also, it’s a bit rude to just assume it’s OK to share a photo away. If it’s just you or a nice view, that’s fine, but be specially careful of images where other people show up. I am actually guilty of this one. I just love taking the random shot of friends in funny poses.

When this happens, you should ask first before publishing away on a social network. It’s only common courtesy. Hey, maybe there are other reasons why your friends and family don’t want certain photos online. And while we are on this topic, please don’t publish every single thing you are doing online. We don’t really want to see what you have for breakfast, lunch and dinner… and snacks.

This is not a reality TV show, guys.


Unnecessary tagging

We’ve all seen unnecessary tagging in social networks, right? It’s OK to be tagged when you show up in a picture or are doing something with the original poster, but I hate when I get tagged in pictures and posts that have nothing to do with me. If you want to call someone’s attention about the post, just send them a message about it or mention them in the comments section (but don’t overdo it).

Just be courteous. Remember tagging can clutter your feed.

Your phone is yours, no one else needs to know what’s up

I am actually a bit guilty of this one too. Like everything else in my crazy life, my phone brightness and sound are always at 100%. This is not nice, unless you are in a place where excessive sound is permitted. When you are in an office, a library, a classroom, a meeting room, a movie theater and other similar environments, at least set the phone to vibrate and keep it out of sight.

Also, some people love to have music playing on their phones in public areas. Well, I guess it depends on where you are, but usually it’s not cool to have your music blasting out of your pocket. Use your headphones.


Keep people around you safe

If you want to run into trees while playing Flappy Bird, be my guest, but you should always be aware of your surroundings to keep people around you safe. Especially when operating a vehicle. If you must take that call or answer a text, just pull over and get out of people’s way. Not only would you be slowing others down, but you are risking endangering them, as well as yourself. This one goes beyond phone etiquette, and into the world of avoiding publicly endangering folks, as well as yourself.


Generic is alright, but uniqueness is great

I suppose it’s not really rude to have that “sent from _____” signature on the bottom of every email, but it looks a bit tacky by now. Why not make your signature unique, or maybe even professional? It will look much better and offer recipients a look into your personality.

Don’t be a phone spy

The finders keepers rule doesn’t apply here, so don’t go looking through a friend’s phone, even if he doesn’t have a protected lock screen. Don’t read through the conversations, don’t even open the browser to log into your own Facebook account. And if it is locked, don’t try to get creative to unlock it.

There’s a reason why this is considered such a personal item. It has way too much information. Ask before using it; even if it is just to check the time.

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Looooooooooooong voice mails

Voice mails are meant to be concise and to the point. “Hey, this is so and so calling about this and that. Please call me when you can.” That’s it! It’s not meant for actual conversations. People will call you back when they have time to hear the whole story.

Phone etiquette – Conclusion

When it comes down to phone etiquette, I suppose the rule of thumb is to just keep in mind your surroundings and other people’s space/time. If you don’t know if something is right to do or not, just try to relate it to other non-digital examples that would be similar. Or maybe try to think if you would like someone else doing something similar.

What other things do you guys think are rude when it comes to smartphone usage? We are sure you have plenty of things to rant about, and I have already done enough of that. It’s your turn!

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