Monthly Archives: October 2013

How we got mobile etiquette all wrong

Over the past few decades we have become increasingly in thrall to our phones jumping to respond to their every ring and bleep.  Where there has been resistance to their distraction particularly in education it is often by totally banning them.  There should be a better way we need to look at Mobile Etiquette.


  1. Only answer a phone if you want to
  2. Say “I will ring you back”
  3. Respect the Real
  4. Make time for family

So I started thinking about mobile use a month back when I saw this video that went fairly viral (you may have seen it, ironically you may have seen it using your phone!).  I must say it hit the nail on the head for me as for years I have been mildly annoyed when people I have taken the time and effort to visit in person, happily ignore me and chat to someone who phoned them.

However I have been visiting Schools for open evenings (my kids are getting older) and I saw a few of these signs.

3584307751_17110a31d2_mNow as my job involves EdTech and I am really interested in the benefits of mobile learning it does seem a shame to me that as kids go into class they are asked to turn off what is one of the most powerful learning tools they own.

Photo Credit: andrewgrill via Compfightcc

So I am suggesting that there should be a better way, some way to have these wonderful devices without having to respond to any noise they make.  Some way to avoid distraction without resorting to banning them and thus losing any benefits they might provide.

Before I explain what we should do I would like to discuss why we react to them in the way we do and why this is in fact not just wrong but old fashioned.  The central problem is that human beings believe that “it is very important to answer a ringing phone

Why do we believe this?  I think it is for 2 reasons, work and history.  In most jobs fairly early on you are told “Make sure you answer the phone” and generally in work there is a feeling that it is important that phones are answered, often when you are away from your desk for long periods of time you will divert your phone to a colleagues extension.

As for history, in the past when phones were new if you missed a phone call that was it, you had no idea who called or what they wanted.  So people stopped what they were doing and ran to answer.  Phone calls cost money (particularly long distance) so people would tell others around them “Be quiet I am on the phone”.  Even when phones became clever enough to tell you who had phoned you, it cost to ring them back and they might have gone out.  Now even if you personally are not old enough to have experienced this your parents will have and they will have passed the “must answer” attitude onto you.

Now I honestly believe we have reached a state where technology means “you should only answer a phone if you want to” Why? well lets look at a list

  • Dont know who rang? – all phones store number of people who ring you
  • Miss an important message – all phones have voicemail & can receive txts
  • Expensive? – most calls are now cheap and most of us have tariffs with 100s of minutes
  • Other person might go out – they will also have a mobile
  • It might be urgent – they will leave a voice mail, if you get a voice mail then gracefully say “oh I should just check this” and listen to the voice mail.  (if you are really brave wait until you get a voicemail and txt)
  • It might be work – yes but it is unlikely to be as important as the work you are working on at that moment and they can leave a voicemail

My second idea is “Say “I will ring you back”“.  This all about the idea of interrupting phone calls and picking them up several minutes later.  As I mentioned above the technology has now moved on, people are always contactable, if you stop a conversation with someone you can pick it up again in 5, 10 or 200 minutes.  You can now treat the person on the end of the phone just like someone who is next to you in the real world.  If you are buying something in a shop, you can stop your call and talk to the sales person, if your partner wants you to kiss the kids good night you can do this and call back after (please feel free to think up your own examples).

The third concept is “Respect the Real” if someone has made an effort to be present in your life in the real world then you should give that a greater weighting than someone who has pushed a few buttons to contact you.  If you meet a friend in the pub and spend the first 20 minutes talking to someone else on the phone – not good.  If you go and play poker with a bunch of friends on a Friday night and spend 1/2 the time checking Facebook and funny videos and txt messages – not good.  If you are in a lecture and you spend it looking at LOLCatz and your friends Facebook updates – not good.

For me the acid test is – if instead of doing something on my phone, I pulled out a book and started reading it would people think I was rude.  If the answer is yes then I probably shouldn’t do the thing with the phone.

Finally “Make time for family” when I get home from work I have 2 hours before my youngest kid goes to bed.  I try to leave this time for family, phone can go to voicemail, txts can be ignored and if the phone does come out it is to do something with someone in my family (we often do “well google says….” and I sometimes have youtubes I want to share).

Oh and family can be, a beer with friends, a meal with your flatmate or even a soap with your cat.  Its about having a chunk of time where the moment is more important than the mobile (and yes if you fail occasionally its not a problem, I sometimes find myself checking G+ or email in family time, its the realising and  stopping thats important)

In conclusion I hope that by thinking a bit more about how we use our phones we can be nicer to those around us and cleverer in how we use them and so we will need less banning because people will know when it is appropriate to use them.