Smartphones are wonderful creations, but social etiquette concerning their use is still evolving. This week, we look at the top five smartphone faux pas, why you should avoid them and what you can do to stop them.
1. The Restaurant
The smartphone at the restaurant is the scourge of couples, but also affects groups of friends as well. Either way, it consists of over-frequent use of the phone in a manner that breaks social flow and temporarily removes an individual from the conversation. While it's accepted that most people nowadays will have a smartphone on their person at all times, that doesn't necessitate its use at all times. I
f you're in any social interaction, that should be your primary focus - if you're looking at your phone instead of their face, then they will feel that you're not valuing their company. While it's okay to sneak a glance at your phone a couple of times an hour, anything longer than a glance should be explained: "Excuse me, I've got to reply to this text message." This lets your compatriot know that you do care about the conversation, and allows them to save their breath for when you're listening. It also means that they are given an opportunity to check their phone without consequence. Or you could ask that everyone pile up their phones in the center of table, to be left undisturbed until departure.
If you think it'd be socially inappropriate to pull out a book and start reading from it, then you probably shouldn't do the same with your smartphone.
2. The Ringtone
You all know this one -- where most people keep their phone's default ringtones, which are designed to be relatively inoffensive, a select few go above and beyond and choose a ringtone that's brash and loud. Whether it's a childish repetitive sound effect, a burst of their favourite dubstep track or a staid movie quote, it serves to distract and annoy everyone in the vicinity. Coincidentally, it always seems to be these ones that have to dig out their phone from the deepest recesses of their apparel, or worse, wait to answer the phone until the ringtone has gotten to the bit they like.
When choosing a ringtone, it's best to err on the side of caution - what may be funny or rockin' to you and your friends probably won't be appreciated by those outside of your social circle. If you're going to choose music or a quote, then try to keep your phone's ringtone volume only as loud as is necessary to hear it. Having your ringtone gradually get louder can help with this. If you're going to be in a public place, then make a habit of keeping your phone somewhere easy to reach; a ringtone that sounds for ten seconds is much more vexing than one that plays for only two. Text ringtones are best kept as short as possible; a single note is often enough to both alert you to the notification. Long quotes, e.g. "Message received, Captain!", should be avoided here.
If your ringtone would disturb a bear in the forest, then go for something quieter and more inoffensive.
3. The Cheat
There's few things worse than a cheat - and in smartphone etiquette, this goes double. The humble pub quiz has come under threat as of late from the increasing ubiquity of internet-connected smartphones, as it's become easier and easier to surreptitiously retrieve the answers off the web. It's not just pub quizzes either - everything from scrabble to exams have been shipped onto the web without much thought paid to the potential for cheating.
What's the solution to this problem? There are two possible approaches - technical and social. The first is to make it impossible for cheaters to operate. For example, you could hold your pub quizzes in a lead-lined bunker, or put up security cameras and plant spies. The second is much more achievable (and less super-villain-esque): make it plain that cheating takes the fun out of the game. If you make a clear rule before the start of the game and the majority are for it, then almost all will abide by it. It's a case of making it the group's social norm that cheating in online gaming is no better than cheating anywhere else; if you're dealing with rational adults then this tends to work well. If you're not, well, a lead-lined bunker may be your only chance.
4. The Know-It-All
The Know-It-All is a curious subclass of The Cheat; instead of slyly looking up the answers to win, he's pointedly looking online for references that support his argument. While there's nothing wrong with being proven wrong (indeed, you can learn a lot), if someone is constantly trying to score points over you then it can quickly get vexing. Smartphones are the key to the Know-It-All's power, as they allow him to dispute things no matter where you are.
Even if you've got a non-confrontation Know-It-All, the constant reliance on the smartphone makes you feel less like you have a friend, and more that you have a direct tube to the internet. Avoid being a Know-It-All if you can -- while it's great to be informative, be mindful of other's perceptions and don't bash them about with your hard-hitting facts. If someone you know is taking on the role, then it might be an idea to only hold discussions with him when you've got a phone of your own. Of course, that's an arms race you may not win, so it might be better to hold your debates in a Farraday cage!
5. The Tweeter
For every person that uses Twitter in the 'right' way, by promoting themselves and their companies or genuinely sharing unique insight, there's a dozen who give Twitter it's 'this is what I had for breakfast' reputation of complete worthlessness. This phonomenon hits other social networks too, though it was perhaps best lampooned by webcomic Penny Arcade (mildly NSFW language) about Twitter. The Tweeter also combines well with The Know-It-All and the The Restaurant, making it even more unbearable.
Whichever service you subscribe to, moderation is your best shot at gaining followers and not angering your friends. Both pre-moderation and post-moderation are valuable: You want to think before you post - am I contributing anything? If someone wrote a book about my life, could this tweet be used as a reference? If it's interesting, unique or funny, then you should definitely post. Post moderation works the same way; essentially you're just committing to read your tweet back a few minutes, hours or days after you've posted it, then delete them if on reflection they're awful. This keeps your timeline fresh and interesting; if someone runs across it they're much more likely to follow you if you've written 5 amazing posts than if you've done 25 mediocre ones. Be critical and reap the rewards.
So there we go - five smartphone faux pas that really get my goat - and that I almost assuredly have done myself! Of course, smartphones can engender other social faux pas than the five I've listed below - what do you think is the worst offense?
Let me know in the comments below - it'll feel good to vent! I'd like to hear your most hated ringtones too - it's only fair after the ones I've linked!
This article was written by William Judd, a freelance tech journalist and copywriter.
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