Dumb Behavior Spreads as Smart Devices Proliferate
June 29, 2009 Alex Woodie
Do you think it’s appropriate to use your Blackberry in a toilet stall? Or to send a tweet from your mobile phone while attending a funeral service? Your mother probably never taught you that these specific activities were naughty because they didn’t even exist 10 years ago. Unfortunately, common sense apparently hasn’t stopped Americans from practicing poor etiquette with their new-fangled smart devices. And according to a new Harris Interactive survey, most of us are tired of it already.
Harris Interactive conducted a “Mobile Etiquette” survey in April to see where people stand on their acceptance of public use of smart, Internet-connected devices, and also to see what percentage of people would admit to engaging in potentially risky or rude mobile behavior themselves. The survey, which Harris did on behalf of Intel, covered more than 2,000 U.S. adults, but it was conducted online, which means, in terms of statistics, that it didn’t use a sample of the general population and therefore a sampling error rate cannot be construed. (Maybe one day, when everybody has an Internet connection and residential IP address directories are as reliable as the good old phone book, Internet-based studies will be deemed more reliable. But if this survey is any indication, we’ll probably self-destruct as a functional society before that ever happens.)
According to the survey, 90 percent of U.S. adults are frustrated by others’ etiquette or lack thereof when using mobile devices, including laptops, netbooks, and smart phones in certain places. More than seven out of 10 said the thing that bugs them the most is seeing other people typing or texting on their mobile devices while driving a car (an activity that will also get you fined in places like California, if the cops catch you).
But bad mobile behavior is not restricted to our nation’s highways and byways. One of the most popular examples of poor etiquette uncovered by the survey involves mobile offenders asking cashiers to wait while they finish a call before completing a sales transaction. (The nerve!) Typing or talking on a cell phone while at church, the doctor’s office, or a funeral parlor is also very bad form, but also quite common, according to Harris’ survey.
People are a little more accepting about the use of Internet-enabled smart devices in other places. Only 56 percent of respondents report being annoyed by people who don’t follow mobile etiquette rules in cafes and restaurants. Fewer still (47 percent) get upset when people break the rules in movie theaters and concert venues. Four out of 10 people said they get riled by etiquette rule-breakers in retail outlets and grocery stores, while 26 percent listed public restrooms (eww, that’s gross!) as their pet peeve.
With all this righteous indignation over rude mobile behavior, one would assume that none of the survey participants were, themselves, purveyors of the same acts they so fervently dislike. One could assume that, since the respondents were all over 18 years of age, that it’s those darn teenagers, going around and acting like general hooligans with their iPhones and their Nokias and their awesome Windows Mobile 6.1 devices.
In fact, that’s not quite true. Nearly 40 percent of the respondents admitted to violating some of their own rules by texting in the company of others, according to the survey.
So when is texting with friends OK, and when is a tweet not so sweet? It can be hard to tell because the rules of etiquette for mobile devices are in flux, according to Genevieve Bell, an Intel Fellow and cultural anthropologist who studies technology and culture.
“We have more and more technology in our lives, much of it in our handbags, backpacks, and pockets as well as our homes, offices, and even cars,” Bell says in a press release. “It is hardly surprising that we are still working out what is socially appropriate and what isn’t. We are still developing our techno-etiquettes.”
Bell did provide a general set of guidelines that you can follow. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but can help you navigate the brave new electric world in which we live, without getting shocked: