Live in Peace with Your Digital Best Friend – and Everyone Else

August 06, 2019

Keep it off the table. Don’t shout. And be courteous at all times. Ninety-four percent of us have them. And, on average we spend 16 hours of every day with them.

What are we talking about? Cell phones. They're our digital best friends and we count on them to keep us in touch with other friends, answer questions, pay for stuff, guide us, take photos and videos – oh and a thousand other things most probably.

But while they may be our most dependable buddy, they're also a tool that, if used inappropriately, can spread anger and frustration like wildfire. 

We're talking about users who intrude into our lives every day with their loud voices, infringement of our privacy, rule-breaking and impoliteness.

Whatever happened to cell phone courtesy? It went out the window with our consideration of the needs and concerns of others in our boisterous, noisy world.

Not only that, but cell phone usage is also a killer – when devices are used to text while driving. Distracted driving – mainly caused by cell phone use -- accounts for a portion of the 3,600 people killed on California's roads every year. In a single year, more than 30,000 people in our state were convicted of texting while driving.

Well, July offers a good opportunity to try to put things right, or at least to improve on the current situation. It's Cell Phone Courtesy Month.

Founded in 2002 by etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, it's not an official, government backed initiative. But the fact that it has survived for 17 years without official support is testimony to public concern about cell phone courtesy and distracted driving.

And it's surely worthy of our attention, since most of us will, at some time, have broken the rules of cell phone etiquette.

Our Top 10 Tips

Most people have their own set of ideas about what constitutes cell phone courtesy (and some simply don’t care). So, here's our list drawn from a series of etiquette and safety experts – plus a pinch of common sense:

  • Silence it when you're with others. Ideally switch it off but, at the very least, switch it to vibrate when a call or message comes in. Use voicemail so you don't miss important calls. You might make an exception if you're expecting an important call – but if you do that, warn the people you're with in advance and then excuse yourself when the call comes in.
  • Hide it . Don’t even put your phone on a table when you're in a meeting, or even a date. Putting your phone on show says, "I brought a friend along and I will be paying it frequent attention instead of focusing on you." And if you think your companions can't see you checking your phone under the table, you're totally wrong, and you're insulting them.
  • Use your indoor voice . How many times have you been irritated by being drawn into someone's phone conversation -- "cell yell" as it’s called -- as they seem to think they're acting on-stage? Sometimes, they add to the dramatic effect by pacing around and gesturing as they talk. Public transport, airports, restaurants, on the street or outside our homes – public restrooms even -- we've all been there and heard them. Unless it's a bad connection, the other party can hear you almost as well as if you were standing next to them. And don't get angry in a public setting. Find somewhere secluded or postpone the conversation.
  • Think before you send that text or email. If it's not urgent, pause while you weigh up whether you've clearly said what you meant and whether the recipient might take offense. And make sure it's headed to the right person before hitting that "Send" button. Using "Reply all" or simply keying in the wrong name can lead to big-time embarrassment.
  • Obey instructions. If you're asked to silence your phone, in a theater for instance, then do so – and don’t switch it on silently to check for messages during the show. Spotting a phone-screen light is surely one of the most infuriating experiences in a theater. Well maybe the noisy popcorn crunchers and rustlers are worse! Then, there are also places where signs are posted forbidding the use of cell phones, most notably in medical buildings. They're there for a reason so please do as you're asked.
  • Turn it down . Playing a game, watching a video, listening to music. When you need some volume, keep it low. Better yet, use headphones and avoid your sound from annoying anyone else.
  • Don't shop and speak. Hopefully you're not one of those people who think it's perfectly acceptable to engage in a phone call while they interact with the salesclerk. It's not just the cashier who will be offended. So will be everyone else watching you.
  • Don't ignore . Even though cell phone etiquette requires you to silence your phone, check your voicemail and messages as soon as it's polite to do so, and reply where appropriate. Some people seem to think they don’t need to reply or acknowledge a message. There might be times when that's acceptable but mostly you should respond. Otherwise, it's like having a face-to-face conversation or live call and just staying silent when spoken to.
  • Be sociable . Some people have developed the habit of whipping out their cell phone when they walk into a social group, as a way of deflecting attention and avoiding those embarrassing "here I am" introductions. This doesn’t work because everyone knows what you're doing. Grit your teeth and get acquainted.
  • Don’t text (or call) and drive . Just don't. In California, it's against the law to use a handheld phone while driving. That means no checking, no texts, tweets, emails or anything else that requires you to hold your phone. And under-18s can't even use hands-free systems. But, for the rest of us, experience shows that even the use of hands-free devices can cause distracted driving and the accidents that often follow. Research shows that, on average, phone users reply to a text within three minutes – but if you're behind the wheel, that sort of response might cost you or others their lives.

Final Thoughts

Are you guilty of one or more of the above points? Don’t worry. Most of us have at some time, but don’t stop trying to use cell phone courtesy – not just in July but all the time.

Just as importantly, consider sharing this blog with friends and families. Cell phones are here to stay and the more we encourage courteous use, the better.

And finally, since your phone is such an important "friend" are you looking after it properly? That means protecting it, backing up your data, and insuring it.

Insuring it? Yes, because while your home insurance might cover you for theft or damage – though you'll still have to pay a deductible – it won’t protect you against losing your phone.

If you need to know more about cell phone or other insurance, please speak to us at Aldrich Taylor Insurance