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When It Comes To Being Rude On Our Phones, We’re All Hypocrites

Put your phone away! Just kidding. You can’t. No one can.

When It Comes To Being Rude On Our Phones, We’re All Hypocrites
[Top Photo: Cultura/Liam Norris/Getty Images]

Ever catch yourself complaining about a family member always texting during dinner or a friend who can’t stop Googling in the middle of your conversation to prove he’s right about some random fact?

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Well, stop it. Because someone else is probably complaining about you and your rude phone behavior.

As smartphones become ubiquitous in our lives and norms of etiquette change, a survey from the Pew Research Center shows we all have double standards about what we consider appropriate phone use in social settings. About 82% of adults believe phone use in social situations “frequently” or “occasional” hurts the conversation, yet many can’t disengage themselves.

Consider the state of our addiction: In the survey of more than 3,000 adults, about 76% of mobile phone owners say they rarely or never turn off their phones. An overwhelming 89% said they used their phone during their most recent social gathering, including 61% who read a text or email, 58% who took a photo or video, 52% who sent a text or received a call, 34% who checked their mobile alerts, 29% who used an app, and 25% who browsed the web.

Not all of these activities hurt a social situation. Taking a photo or sharing using an app can contribute to a gathering, and that’s exactly what many people in the survey said they were doing. But some explicitly use their phone to disengage, including 16% who said they were bored with what their group was doing, and 10% who used their phones to avoid participating in the group’s discussion.

We’re also not always consistent in how we feel about public device usage, depending on our age. Most (65%-70%) people said they frequently use phones in public for directions, coordinating meetings, and catching up with friends and family, and a minority (23%) said they occasionally use phones in public to avoid interacting with others.

But young adults age 18 to 29 are far more likely to tolerate this behavior in others: 90%, 86%, and 78% of young people say it’s okay to use devices on public transportation, waiting in line, and while walking down the street, respectively. Unsurprisingly, older generations are less cool with all these behaviors.

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For all you people who wish you were more polite, but can’t seem to resist the temptation of your screen, there are all sorts of remedies at your disposal. And people are getting creative. There are clothes that block your cell phone from receiving a signal, restaurants that charge less if you turn off your phone, and lamps that only work if you hand over your device. China even created a playful sidewalk lane for people who can’t keep their thumbs off their devices.

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About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire

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