Smartphone Etiquette 101

As you look around in restaurants, on street corners and in our workplaces, you will recognize “the state of monomaniacal obliviousness” that overcomes fellow humans when they’re “absorbed in an activity to the exclusion of everything else,” in the words of Henry Alford, author of Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That: A Modern Guide to Manners.

In other words, they’re all starting at their phones. If that smartphone-distracted person happens to be someone you’re trying to have a conversation over dinner or meeting with, should you be offended?

“To treat the person standing in front of you as secondary to your phone is usually, as the kids say, a micro-aggression,” Alford told The New York Times.

At the very least, it’s bad manners, declares none other than Miss Manners herself—also known as Judith Martin, whose column on proper behavior is syndicated in newspapers across the country. What would she do if someone became engrossed in a phone during dinner? “If that happens, that’s when dinner ends,” she says.

Dennis Hunter, a blogger and self-professed smartphone addict, offers this remedy: “Sometimes when my partner and I sit down to dinner, we put our phones face down on the table—or better yet, leave them in the other room—and agree not to check them until we’ve finished our dinner together. Some people have adopted even more extreme measures: When you’re out to dinner with a group, everyone stacks their phones in the middle of the table, and the first one to check their phone picks up the tab.”

Another etiquette expert, Maralee McKee, takes an even harder line. “Unless you’re a doctor on call, keep your phone off the table,” she says. “The only things that belong on a table are food and the things needed to eat it.”

In the Old West, gunfighters were asked to check their six-shooters at the door. Are we moving toward a time when social hosts and meeting planners ask attendees to park their phones at the door?


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