Table Manners for Smartphones

The salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork, and to the right of the smartphone.

Smartphones are a part of our everyday lives now. According to Pew Research Center, 64% of American adults own a smartphone. Thanks to smartphones we are in constant communication with everyone we know. We can be reached by phone or text message at any time time of the day whether we’re at home, behind the desk, behind the wheel, or perusing the produce aisle. We can let people know what we’re doing or see what others are doing through social media, regardless of how boring those things may be. This connectivity is part of what makes digital marketing so useful for businesses.

In fact, smartphone usage is becoming so common, and so important, that Google updated their algorithm this year to encourage websites to become more mobile-friendly.

But since smartphones are becoming such an integral part of our daily lives, we have to consider how smartphones play into social behavior. Some might cringe when they hear the phrase “smartphone etiquette”, believing that something as rad, cutting edge, and in your face as a smartphone can’t be tethered down by social constructs of should and should not, man.

Well, man, etiquette is a thing, and if you’re going to use your smartphone in social settings, smartphones are included in your social behavior. But rather than try and pass a mandate on how someone should use their own smartphone, I would just like to muse on using a smartphone in social situations.

Should you get upset that your dinner date is tap tap taping away on his or her smartphone, responding with a series of disinterested “uh huh”s and “yeah”s, clearly not paying attention, as you make very interesting remarks about how you find 3 prong forks inferior to 4 prong forks? Should you be upset when your friend misses the cool trick that you did with a quarter because they were busy texting someone who wasn’t even there to see your magic trick go down?

Some would say disgruntlement would be justified.

Should we accept that things are different and not be offended by people ignoring us because they’re not really ignoring us, they’re just not hearing a single word that’s being said because they are checking Facebook?

Some would rather die.

Smartphones are definitely changing social dynamics. In the past, social interactions had to be done physically and face to face. Now social interactions are done from across the city, the state, the country or the world. We shouldn’t expect people to behave with the same manners and etiquette that were called for 100 years ago, because things have changed a lot in the last century. Things have changed a lot in the past decade, for that matter.

But at the same time we can’t use technology and changing times as an excuse to be rude. Obviously, you can do whatever you please, especially when it comes to something as seemingly trivial as how you use your phone.

If you want to let the Facebook world know that you’re having a good a conversation with your buddy instead of listening to the person talk to you, that’s your decision (and yes it’s possible to do both things). Just keep in mind that the person you’re talking to could perceive it as being rude.

There are a few articles and blogs that have been written on the topic of smartphone etiquette. Many of these articles seem to have been written by traditionalists demonizing smartphones and the Internet, and condemning them for turning today’s youths into mindless ninnies obsessed with doling out upward thumbs. If you want to try and seriously establish some type of etiquette for smartphones, you have to realize that it goes both ways.

It isn’t fair to say that using a smartphone is rude or inappropriate. Smartphones are a part of our daily lives, and therefore a part of our social interactions. You can’t expect someone to refuse communication with anyone else while you stare meaningfully into each others eyes for X amount of hours. This might have been standard 30 years ago (although probably still a little bit creepy), but it’s definitely not how things are done now.

Don’t take someone checking a text message or uploading a picture to Instagram as a slight or an insult. On the reverse, try and recognize that if you’re spending time with someone, they probably deserve more attention than the people who aren’t there. Since smartphones are still relatively new, society has to hash out what is and isn’t considered proper etiquette when it comes to smartphones and social interactions.






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