Friday Question of the Day – What is Proper Cell Phone/Smart Phone Etiquette?


Actually one quick random cell phone question first. For those that use AT&T do you notice that your 3G coverage gets dropped around the U Street area? Mostly around 13th and U I always lose coverage.

But anyway for the real question of the day – what is proper cell phone/smart phone etiquette when with friends or on a date? I’m not talking about on the metro or in a store. I’m talking only about when you’re on a date or hanging out with friends. I know this is a horrible analogy but back in the day it was considered very rude to wear a hat indoors. Folks wear hats indoors all the time now. I used to think if you were hanging out with friends or on a date it was absolutely forbidden to text or check email. Sure with friends it’s slightly different but still, I used to think even then it was impolite to check the phone/email. So today I was at lunch with a friend and I swear it was like being addicted to a drug, I absolutely had to check my email. I apologized but still checked it.

So I’m just curious, has the proliferation of smart phones changed whether or not it is rude to check them with friends or on a date?

60 Comment

  • Keep the phone on because it will make your date think you are important when you interrupt a conversation to check it during dinner or drinks for bullshit twitter-flavored text messages.

  • With friends, I’d be reasonably tolerant of checking email. But if it seemed my friend was spending more time on line than in conversation I’d say something.

    On a date, not good etiquette to keep check email. Unless it is of the “waiting to hear about the birth of niece or nephew/book publication date/decision of Nobel committee” ilk.

    Captcha = “classy conflict”

  • if you’re on a date its never cool to check your phone.

  • not a big fan of answering calls during a meal; if you are expecting an important call you should say something ahead of time and excuse yourself if the call comes. if you are just hanging out at a bar isn’t a big deal but it irks me during a meal.

  • I live near 13th and U, and I miss calls all the time when my phone is in 3G mode. So I keep it in Edge mode for the most part while I’m at home.

    Never check your phone/e-mail on a (first through third) date. All else is fine.

  • Sometimes you just have to be disconnected.

    That’s the great part of electronic mail. You get your message through without interruption, and you get to reply at a convenient and proper time.

    It’s the modern day telegram delivered over the ether.

    Instant messaging is for medical doctors and teenagers.

    Call waiting is what I have always found rudest of all to the person on hold while the other person is checking on the other call.

    -Life in 2009.

    Makes you wonder how polite, civilized and blissful urban or rural life must have been when the highest technology carried on your person was a good pocket watch -and hand wound; no batteries.

  • Don’t have a cell/mobile.
    Hate them all.
    Talk on the phone at home.
    If you have a cell (and YOU all do).
    Use it privately, as you use the bathroom. Same etiquette.
    Take it out there and don’t show it around.
    As in bathroom, only when you have to.

  • WTF is this “etiquette,” Mister Snooty Man? Have I suddenly been transported to the court of Louis XIV? If I decide to take a call from my bookie while I’m pooping in a treebox, I suggest you mind your own business. Good DAY to you, sir!

  • On a date play whatever mind game you want. Hanging with friends stop looking at your blackberry! There are alot of kings men in this city very few kings. Translation – youre not that important.

  • totally unacceptable in any social situation unless it’s an emergency

  • Checking your phone while out with someone (either on a date or not) is rude – it shows you’re not actually interested in interacting with the person you’re with.

    Also PoP, wearing a hat indoors still identifies you as a classless person. It may not be shockingly poor etiquette or rude but it still says something about a person.

  • I remember when cell phones were a relatively new technology, and one day I saw a guy talking on his phone WHILE HE WAS WALKING OUTSIDE and I thought it was so rude. (circa 1998). The standards have gotten lower and lower.

    I just think that in order to be really present with the person that is right in front of your face, it’s best to stay off the email and phone (unless the aforementioned births or important messages are expected). But that’s just me.

    My (college-aged) students don’t seem to understand why texting during class is unacceptable…

  • My question is, when I’m out on a date or with friends and they keep checking their phone, is it rude for me to grab it out of their hands and throw it as hard as I can across the room? (Without hitting anyone of course.)

  • Well, it’s a good way to tell your date that you’re tired of listening to her talk about her precious dog and her ex boyfriend.

    Also, is it rude to talk to someone while you’re sitting on the pot in a public bathroom? I hear it happening all the time and it makes me WANT to make gross sounds. Always seems like it’s a sales guy…

  • We live in a technological area with a 24 hour news/work cycle, especially if you work with any international clients. Sometimes you have to answer the phone or more likely, an email after 5pm. Deal with it and if a person cannot handle it on the first date, chances are, they won’t be able to 3 months in.

  • I think it’s fine to use to complain loudly to a friend when youre standing in line behind someone with 16 items when the sign clearly says 15 or less.

    Another time I don’t like it is when there is a group of people in a car and someone whips out/answers their phone… All other conversation is limited in that situation.

    Yes, I lose coverage on my 3g from about Swann to V street.

  • I find phone and texting rules with dates and friends can be negotiable. And I’m pretty tolerant of public use except: anything technological in public bathroom, phones on crowded subway/bus, and texting with your head down while walking down the street. Fortunately, I find the first two pretty rare now.

  • I wish cell phone jammers were legal here, but the cell phone industry has congress so in their pocket that even fed and local prisons can’t use them to keep inmates from conducting business from inside. I just want one to f*ck with rude people though.

  • It is my belief that it is totally unacceptable to talk, text or check e-mail on a cellphone when you are having a conversation with someone..including a date, hanging out, having a beer, ordering food, etc. It is rude and incredibly inconsiderate. You are not giving the person you are with your attention or respecting their time. I find it totally false and patronizing to cloak rudeness in some selfish lie that we are a “24 hour news cycle/work/information society”. Generally it seems people spend an incredible amount of time trying very hard to not actually engage with another human being…they prefer to just observe, consume and rate that “experience” as opposed to being “in the experience”.

  • I’m with you, Joe. I have clients on the west coast and in Europe. Sometimes I just have to take calls and emails during non-work hours. It’s not because I think I’m that important…it’s because one of the main value-adds of my business is my customer service. If a client is calling or emailing, they have an issue and my addressing that issue in a very timely manner goes a long way. I’m essentially a whore.

    • Ditto. Responding to my boss has nothing to do with me thinking I’m super important, it has to do with having a job, and wanting to keep said job. Maybe the rest of you get to have awesome well paying 9-5s, but those kinds of hours are not available in my crappy profession.

      It doesn’t bother me when I’m with friends if they answer their phones or texts, as long as they aren’t ignoring me and spending chatting away for 10 minutes at a time. All of us are busy, and gasp! have other friends, and family, and have to work pretty hard to keep in touch with them.

      But I guess I’m pretty laid back and not easily bothered. Also I’m an annoying iPhone user, so I think that my device improves upon my life, doesn’t detract.

    • Agreed. (Well, back when I was working.) I had lunch with a friend from the old days and he said he could tell I’d changed a lot because I forgot my pda at home, and didn’t leave to go get it. A lot of jobs are just 24 hour things – it’s the whole reason why they give you the stupid blackberry (or whatever) in the first place.

      Now, even though I’m not working in a world that requires me to be constantly available, I still check it a lot, and I don’t care if other people do too. People are busy and have a lot of obligations. Hell, I try to multitask my human interactions as much as possible too, and see as many people at once as possible!

  • Drives me batty when my husband pulls his phone out of his pocket and puts it on the bar or table. He claims he’s more comfortable but he’ll still check it. If a call comes in he has to take at least he’s polite enough to step away from the table.
    I don’t have a cell phone. I hope to never have one. I am a luddite.

  • I also think this might depend on your profession to a certain extent. As a lawyer, I have lots of lawyer friends, and all of us check our blackberries frequently. This is both by habit and by expectation…clients and other lawyers demand 24/7 access and quick response times. I cannot go through a long dinner without checking my e-mail. The following is part of an e-mail (posted on a popular legal news site) sent by a senior partner at a major firm to everyone at that firm:

    “Now more than ever there are many talented lawyers and law firms competing for our business. Doing really good legal work is not enough. Clients expect that and well they should given what we charge for our services You must all realize that we are in a service business. In this day and age of faxes, emails, internet, etc. clients expect you to be accessible 24\7. Of course, that is something of an exaggeration—but not much.

    “LESSON NUMBER ONE: You should check your emails early and often. That not only means when you are in the office, it also means after you leave the office as well. Unless you have very good reason not to (for example when you are asleep, in court or in a tunnel), you should be checking your emails every hour. One of the last things you should do before you retire for the night is to check your email. That is why we give you blackberries. I can assure you that all of our clients expect you to be checking your emails often.”

  • If you’re with friends who are all already talking with each other, I’d say it wouldn’t be impolite to check your phone.
    I find it too easy to get distracted when talking on a cell though (even if I’ve made the call). When I get (or make) a call on my home phone, I give that person my undivided attention and am really into that conversation. When it’s my cell, I just get too tempted to continue what I’m doing/multitask.

  • I would say that there is not a fixed “proper etiquette” when it comes to data services. It is all a case-by-case situation, and rules can always be bent to comport to the situation.

    As for me, a phone’s report should never be heard by others in public. I would not look at my email right in front of persons I was having a conversation with, but I would have no problem checking in when they are off to the bathroom or something.

    I do not, however have the same ease when it comes to voice services though. It is always inappropriate to answer a call when with people. (personally I would not even answer it on the bus, but I don’t like having conversations, even about groceries, in the earshot of anyone else… I will leave the room to make/take a call even at home.) The only exception is if you need to give directions to your one friend who gets lost a lot yet still doesn’t have a smartphone with gps. Everyone else can leave a voicemail that you can check at a later point outside.

    As for the bathroom use that others have mentioned, I think it is entirely inappropriate to use anything other than the bathroom when you are in the bathroom… not out of germophobia, just principle.

  • It’s rude. If you simply must check your email, excuse yourself to the restroom. And then remember, you’re lying to your friends to indulge your addiction.
    I would not accept a second date with a man who didn’t enjoy our first date enough to stop pursuing his other options for a couple hours.

  • You just need to be tactful about it. Its totally ok to check your phone/blackberry while you’re walking along, standing, or waiting for something. Its not ok while you’re in active conversation, sitting down across from someone, or eating a meal.

  • Quincy St Neighbor

    Yeah Ive noticed problems with my iPhone 3GS on U street consistently. Must be all the hipsters jamming up the bandwidth.

    On iPhone etiquette, check out this clever flowchart from gizmodo:

    • That’s funny and I think spot-on, for when you’re with your sig. other as the chart indicates it’s for. I think like one of the other commenters said if it’s dates 1-3 the rules should be a little stricter, and maybe a little more lax for when you’re with friends.

  • I agree with the idea that there are no set rules for data. The technology is so new that our parents werent there to say “you shouldnt text when you are in a conversation with friends” when they handed you your first phone. There are some things I think are common sense, but I wont hold other people accountable since there arent set rules.
    I am pretty lenient so I dont care if somebody checks their phone during a break in the conversation. I will check my phone, but only after somebody else has checked theirs. Normally if I send a text, I will be around a good friend or girlfriend. Since they all know of each other, I usually let the person know what I sent and who it was to.

  • I think it is rude.

    I think it sends the message that the other person’s company is not compelling enough for you to be fully there.

    If it isn’t, admit it, end the date and move on.

  • Only in an emergency – otherwise, it’s really rude, and tells the other person that they aren’t worth your attention.

    If your calls/emails are so important, why did you arrange to spend time with that person anyway? Reschedule the date/drinks if you’re slammed at work.

    Captcha: “Hughes futurum”

    • @Warderite


      Very few people are doctors or are on call from their jobs about a mission critical issue.

      People forget to turn their phones off, but getting off the phone immediately while apologizing works too.

  • I’ve seen people at parties go into a corner, pull out their phone and hang there by themselves for significant amounts of time.

    The whole point of going to a party, getting together with friends, or going on a date is to be with someone. That means interacting with them.

    If that isn’t compelling enough it is a sign that you really aren’t into those people. You are wasting your precious free time by hanging with them.

  • I say busting out your cell on a first date is pretty douchey. Gives the other person the feeling that you don’t want to be there.

    Other situations I say it’s not a big deal.

  • never talk on the cell phone in an elevator.
    and if you must do it on the bus, which is rude, at least cover the phone and talk quietly.

  • No set rules?! First, cell phones aren’t that new: I bought my first cell phone back in ’97, and I didn’t feel cutting-edge about having one (it was a Motorola with a fake wood cover that matched the fake wood trim in my car – I was impressed!). If one follows basic etiquette, it’s no different than interrupting your date back in 1981 with that hot Dorothy Hamill-lookalike to go to the pay phone, dial up your BFF, and ramble on about whatever inanity has popped into your head. “OMG – I hear that they’re coming out with a LADY Pac-man. Can you believe it?!” As my grandmother would say: “It’s just not done.”

  • Thanks to Eli for posting that email on expectations of associates at a law firm.

    Doctors are not supposed to be reachable when they are not on call.

  • Truth is, the really important people don’t carry blackberries or cell phones. They have people who do that for them.

    The ones who can’t put away their mobile devices for even a minute or two are the ones who just pretend to be important. They leave their blackberry on the table so not just their dining companions but everyone in the restaurant will know exactly how pretentious they are.

    The minute a date puts their blackberry on the table is the minute the date is over. If I’m out with a friend who interrupts our conversation to talk on the phone, unless it’s a really short call, I’ll just walk away.

    I’m not an important person, but my time is important to me, and I’m not going to waste it waiting for someone who doesn’t value me or my time enough to put their phone away for a few minutes.

  • clearly, in this town there needs to be an exception for Blackberries, which are the only way Important People communicate with their staffs and each other. We should be allowed to check them compulsively at all times.

    Speaking of which, PoP – I can’t comment using my Blackberry any more due to the captcha thing being too sophisticated for a mobile browser. Is there any way to make that work?

    • Prince Of Petworth

      I’m working on getting a more mobile friendly PoP site in the next few months. Hopefully that will clear up any blackberry/iphone issues.

  • The comments on this blog can be a bit harsh. I just want to write that I think the person asking this question should get props for at least thinking about this issue.

    Many people don’t even have a clue that this behavior is rude or they don’t care.

  • how is talking on a cell phone in public any worse than talking to another person?

    seems to me like its 50% less bothersome than having a conversation with someone who is actually right next to you

  • HANGUP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    HANGUP this topic.

  • 1. If you are on a date, and it is going well, and you feel compelled to answer your cellphone, or to check your e-mail, then you have an obsessive-compulsive disorder and need therapy, not etiquette advice.

    2. The AT&T 3G problem at 14th and U is so bad that I lose service even when I’m riding through that intersection on the bus. I’ve always attributed the source of this to Busboys & Poets, where my phone doesn’t work at all. I think that’s the epicenter.

    3. It’s fine to wear a hat indoors, but if you still have it on when you sit down at the dinner table, you should be decapitated and your head should be displayed on a stake near the entrance.

  • I must need a new job according to you guys.
    //wears BB whenever awake.

  • Never have your phone on or answer your phone when at the table (unless you are a doctor and on call). You may check your messages or for any phone calls when/if you excuse yourself to freshen up in the washroom. If you want a second date, keep your phone in your purse or pocket. You want to find out more about your date, not that your friend just laughed milk out their nose.

  • For about 12 bux at Jos A. Bank, they have two books– how to be a gentleman, and how to raise a gentleman. Covers a ton of subjects. I think they have a book for ladies as well.

  • My thoughts are above, but I will add that I agree that answering a call is probably ruder (unless it’s work) than checking email.

    I guess I just don’t care that much what other people do – if someone I’m with wants to check their email, that’s cool b/c it gives me the chance to do the same.

    And, I do always put my phone/pda on the table/bar b/c otherwise it’s in my purse and I can’t see/hear it.

    I guess I don’t understand the gripe. My pda allows me to not be chained to a desk, and spend time with friends, so yeah, I need to answer it when it buzzes. Isn’t that better than spending 12+ hours a day in an office at a desk? What about that is so hard for people to understand?

  • I actually have a friend who I no longer spend time with because she has a blackberry addiction and it became insulting to sit at a table with her, with her nose buried in the damn phone texting other people.

    But I’ll also say, there are degrees. I don’t see a problem with checking your email or (godforbid) sending a tweet occassionally, just don’t ignore the people you’re with to do it. It really shouldn’t be that tough a concept.

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