“Talking” Etiquette: a Timeless Guide to Modern Technology

talking etiquette: a timeless guide to modern technology


There’s been a lot of talk recently about the new lows in etiquette we’re reaching with our cell phones. While I’m confident no MMD readers are going to get dragged away in handcuffs for felony-grade breaches of etiquette, now is a good time to review how to handle that cell phone with class.

Have Some Self-Discipline

The gadget is not the enemy: it’s just a tool, and you can choose whether or not to use it in any given moment.

Have Some Respect

It’s just a phone—but we send powerful messages with the way we use it. Our actions speak to our priorities, which is why your mom raises her eyebrow when you text during family dinner.

Have Some Empathy

Are you the one talking on that cell phone in the coffeeshop? Put yourself in the other patrons’ places for a sec: do you seem discreet, or loud and disruptive? If it’s the latter, take that conversation outside.

Are you the one listening to that loud woman on her cell phone in the coffee shop? Don’t automatically assume she’s clueless and rude. You’ve probably also taken a call at an inopportune time, and you probably had a good reason. Maybe she does, too.

I don’t love it when a friend leaves her phone out over coffee so she can see her new texts and emails. It makes me feel like the back-burner girl. But if my friend leaves her phone out so she doesn’t miss the doctor calling with test results, that’s fine by me.

Have Some Grace

Try not to jump to conclusions about people who are on their phones when you think they shouldn’t be. Yes, that dad is taking a call during his child’s ball game, but don’t assume he’s a workaholic jerk. If he wasn’t reachable by phone, he may not have been able to get out of the office to be there at all.

Have Some Perspective

You are not required to respond just because your phone rings/flashes/beeps. It’s (usually) okay to be unreachable. (I always ask myself, What if I was in the shower? I wouldn’t answer it then.)

And don’t be a vigilante etiquette-enforcer.  Have some perspective: shooting cold stares at others because they’re being rude with their cell phones is—rude. Don’t do it!

Remember–that phone is just a tool.  It’s up to you to use it well.

P.S. Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together tackles this and other tough issues about relationships and technology.

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  1. Hannah says:

    Eye contact is becoming a lost art these days! It’s hard to show someone you really care if you won’t have the courtesy to look them in the eyes. Seriously…my hubby and I saw a couple out on a date at a very nice restaurant together, and they barely acknowledged each other the whole meal because they were both texting! Yes, we are people watchers, I admit it. It gave us something to giggle about, and I was so thankful my hubby isn’t into that.

  2. Damsel says:

    Great article!!! I agree that NOT multitasking has become rare… or should I say that we’ve forgotten how to focus on the moment. I struggle with this, too, but I make a conscious effort to NOT check my phone when I’m talking to someone.

    One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that I’ve stopped wearing a watch. My battery died, and I just figured I’d use my phone… so sometimes I’m just checking the time, but I’m realizing that the other person with me may not realize that. Perhaps I should get the battery replaced in my watch. 🙂

  3. Laura says:

    This past semester, my oldest son took a cooking course at school. For his final mark they had to prepare a meal for their families at the school. (It was last night actually).
    We were sitting with another couple whome we don’t know. I was bending over backwards trying to keep the conversation going and make the other couple comfortable with us. What was the wife doing? Texting her friend.
    I thought that it was SO rude. 🙁


    • Anne says:

      I can see why! But I am so interested–cooking course at school? Final meal for the families? I hope you’re writing about this more on your blog!

  4. A few years back, my husband was literally attached to his cell phone. He’d answer every call regardless of the situation. After a heart-to-heart, he has really watched his phone usage {mostly when he does it}. I have two young daughters {3 and 2} and before I ever call someone, I let them know. That might seem over the top, but, I still think it’s rude to them when we are in the car and then for the next 20 mins I ignore them. So, I say “Hey girls, mama needs to call Aunt Shelly, so I will be on the phone for a little while. Is there something you’d like to talk about first?” Almost always they just ask for their story to be turned up and that’s that. But sometimes they really want to engage in conversation first. And so we do. And once it’s done, I make my call.

    Then when I’m with adults, I will either ignore my phone, or if I can’t, explain that it’s my husband and I really must take it. Once I answer the call, I tell the person on the phone that I am with so and so and that it’s not a good time to talk. Since this is usually always my husband, he just quickly tells me what he needs to pass along and it’s done. If it’s a doctor {or the like} I won’t say that, but, those are usually short calls and typically the person with me knows that it’s important and needs to be handled. It’s all about respecting the person you’re with and staying engaged with them.

  5. Today, I was almost run over with a grocery cart because the driver (of the grocery cart) was on her cell phone. I took the high road and smiled instead of shooting the mean look that I really wanted to. Like you said, you never know what the circumstances are. It’s not always easy giving grace, but I know that there are times when I’ve needed it too. Thanks for the post.

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