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Smartphones Any Place, Any Time?

People under 30 think nothing of answering a mobile or texting while talking to somebody in front of them. People over about 45 find that extremely rude.

Some young people may feel instinctively that the person in front has the priority, but go with the flow as that is how life is lived these days.

But is it?

Mary Killen wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that teenagers are the worst offenders as they never knew life ‘when it was real’. They live in ‘a continuous future.’ They have experience only of instant, illiterate and ill-considered responses. She said they seek gratification from electronic validation reassuring them they are alive and abreast of all ‘the latest’.

Harsh words, but they strike a chord with older people. There was a bust up in a shop in Yorkshire last year from a customer who queued for service, only to find the assistant leaving the till when he reached her to answer the phone! When he objected and protested he was ‘spoken to’ by police officers who were called out.

A recent survey by Birmingham Food Fest discovered that the majority of British people no longer ever eat together as families and of those who do, 40% engage with their electronic devices throughout the meal. Phones, pads and games consoles apparently fight for table space with cutlery and dishes of food. Is the new norm really becoming acceptable?

They also concluded that putting a knife and fork together on the plate to indicate you have finished eating and chewing with your mouth shut, are also fast becoming quaint snippets of social history.

But eating habits may still acceptably be left to individual people, but the use of electronic devices actually impinge on the freedoms of others, particularly in public places.

Schools and Trains

The debate about use of mobiles in schools was had and lost a decade ago. At first heads tried to ban them, but as they became so popular they now seem to be ubiquitous, they were tolerated outside lessons.

Since then, the use has been abused to text during lessons or whenever, to cheat at tests (though exam boards insist they are excluded from halls), to photo and publish pictures of staff and other students. On the other hand, many specifications allow their use as they assist in pushing at the boundaries of technology in education.

Most intercity trains now have designated quite carriages to insulate a few passengers from the verbal assault of listening to people on their mobiles. Many ignore the prohibition, believing presumably, that it as a God-given right to use your phone wherever you choose and whoever is unavoidably listening.

Health of individuals and safety of all train passengers in fast moving tubes relying on signals and technology generally to operate, could in the future be compromised by certain kinds of mobile technology.

How to Hit Back

Killen offered a number of suggestions by way of a fightback against device addicts who annoy the innocent in public:

* In a room if someone starts using a mobile, leave the room, read a book and wait for them to find you. (If they do).

* On a train, record a banal conversation and then play it back to them and they’ll soon get the message and stop. (Or they’ll beat you up).

* In a public place like a restaurant the user expecting an urgent call is advised to put it on vibrate and then leave the area. (Your companions may have left when you return).

* In a social situation like a party or stag do, order a ban on all photos, so guests can live in ‘real time.’ (And then mock up your own).

* In a theatre, set your ring tone to the sound of coughing. (And wonder why your ticket isn’t refunded as you are ejected).

* In a business meeting, secretly switch it off and make it clear to all that the really high status symbol these days is to have a minion answer your phone, that answering your own calls is so yesterday. (And make sure you haven’t missed anything important when nobody can see you later).

For a different set of advice, last year Good Technology invited Amanda Hess to ask to investigate smartphone etiquette. She approached style experts from different generations (aged 24, 44, 55, 61 and 71) about a variety of social situations and using phones.

They considered meals out, conversations in rooms, walking and multitasking, arbitrating in an argument between friends, when to show hundreds of family/friends/pets photos and when to respond to an incoming text.

In the main, the collective advice was common sense, but there was a marked scaling from the informality of the younger view to the perspectives of the older who rated personal communication above long-distance. So the consensus from that was that probably, all things considered, on the average occasion, you are best advised to ‘keep the mobile in your pants’ when with others.

All good sound advice, of course. But the sad thing is that none of the usual culprits are listening. They’re too busy on their smartphones.


Birmingham Food Fest, July 2012

Sunday Telegraph, Mary Killen, Here’s how to outwit the smartphones, 15 July 2012

We hate … mobile phones on trains!

Good Technology, Amanda Hess, Keep it in your pants, 9 August 2011

Image: gillyberlin