89% of People Are Using Their Cell Phones Wrong: Are You?

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Cell phones are such a common sight today that it’s almost like they’ve become another appendage in most people’s hands. It’s not a surprise that a recent Pew Research Center study found about 92% of adults in the United States own a cell phone, and 90% of those mobile users say they “frequently” have their phone with them.

“This ‘always-on’ reality has disrupted long-standing social norms about when it is appropriate for people to shift their attention away from their physical conversations and interactions with others towards digital encounters with people and information that are enabled by their mobile phone,” the center concluded.

As cell phones become more common, it’s also changing the views people have on their use. For example, 77% of people believe it’s generally ok to use a cell phone while walking down the street, even if that means you’re listening in on the conversations of dozens of people as you walk past. About 75% of the people surveyed (which was 3,217 people) said it’s also generally ok for people to use their phones while using public transit — thus the influx of people texting or talking with their mother while taking the subway.

Phone use hurts social, work interactions

But in social situations, cell phone use becomes another beast altogether. Roughly 89% of people said they used their phone in some context during their last social interaction, at a party or a dinner, or a gathering of some kind. And though many of those users claim they enhanced the gathering by taking a group photo, tweeting about their experience, or in some other way, it’s generally not viewed in a positive light by others who aren’t on their phones.

A full 82% of respondents said using cell phones in social settings frequently or occasionally hurts the conversation. We’ve all been at a party when two or three people won’t put their phones down, even when playing a game or eating together — almost as if they accidentally came into contact with super glue. But that’s the paradox: when people aren’t using their phones, they view other mobile usage as rude — until they’re the one checking Facebook.

Younger people are generally more accepting of cell phone use in any context: that’s the case in several studies that have been conducted in recent years, including this Pew research. However, it might have some serious consequences for millennials who are looking to move up in their careers, but who aren’t conscious of how their cell phone use is perceived by their bosses.

Your promotion might depend on your phone use

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Using a cell phone in public, especially while also interacting with another person, can be incredibly difficult. That’s because texting or taking another call is the digital equivalent of interrupting one conversation to have another, etiquette expert Jodi R. R. Smith told Christian Science Monitor. “If you and I are having a conversation and someone taps you on the shoulder, and you turn your back on me to have another conversation, that would be extremely rude,” Smith said. The same is true “whether it’s another person or a piece of technology.”

According to Pew’s most recent research, only 5% of respondents thought it was generally ok to use a cell phone, for any reason, in a meeting. Another study out of USC went deeper into cell phone etiquette while on the job, and found that three in four people said that checking texts or even emails during a work meeting was unacceptable. During informal business lunches, 66% of people said that sending or reading texts over the course of the lunch was rude. On top of that, one in five people feel that even having your phone on the table during a power lunch is distasteful.

So why does this matter on the job? You might get away with texting a few times during a pointless meeting, but chances are your older colleagues — and the people who hold promotion tickets — are probably taking note. “Not surprisingly, millennials and younger professionals were more likely to be accepting of smartphone use, but they might be doing themselves a disservice,” said Peter W. Cardon, co-author of the USC study. “In many situations, they rely on those older than them for their career advancement.”

Old-school phone etiquette

You might otherwise want to tell grandpa to get with the times — that while he’s droning on about quarterly reports not relevant to you, you’re coming up with solutions to other office problems. But that’s probably not your best bet, even if you believe you’re using your cell phone in a courteous manner. You definitely want to avoid this if your direct superiors are women. Obviously the “grandpa” scenario doesn’t qualify here, but women are generally twice as likely to be offended by cell phone use than their male counterparts in the office.

The payoff to kicking your cell phone habit is that you might find yourself in the good graces of your bosses, especially if you’re looking to move up in the company. “Hiring managers often cite courtesy as among the most important soft skills they notice. By focusing on civility, young people entering the workforce may be able to set themselves apart,” Cardon explained.

Want to be the consummate gentleman with all things technology? Here’s a few more rules about mobile use in your everyday life.

Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS

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