"But Everyone's Doing it" – Smartphone Etiquette

No one loves their smartphone more than I do. I mean, I review mobile apps, for Pete’s sake. I love pretty much everything about the little devices that pack so much into such a portable form.

And yes, I do bring my smartphone with me almost everywhere. But I have to get on my soap box here, for a moment. My target is not really the smartphones, per se, but the users who have bonded so firmly with their devices that it might take a crowbar to dislodge them from their death grip.

It is a topic I have been thinking about for some time now. To sum it up: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  When I am engaging with friends, or when I am at dinner with companions, I pocket my phone and that is where it stays, until I am alone. There are people within my social group who find it perfectly o.k. to turn to the phone during a conversation, rather than the other human companions in the group. I have a problem with that.

Go ahead. Call me old fashioned. I recall reading a post several months back by one of those people, you know, the ones who find it perfectly acceptable to choose the virtual world over the very real social situation at hand. This person (I so wish I could find that article) actually made the argument that the prolific use of smartphones during social gatherings actually improved his social experience, enhanced his connections with other people rather than diminished them, by making the event more exciting. If I recall correctly, the examples proffered by the author included the ability to look up data to settle an argument. Well, now, where is the fun in that? There goes the entire sport of social argument in one fell Google-an or Wikipedian swoop. Exciting, my foot. More like a buzz kill.

But seriously, much of what is going on during these flights from reality are forays into the virtual social world. Perusing Facebook while sitting at a table with real friends. Checking messages sent by others while real people next to you wait for you to finish. Attending to questionably pressing work during those rare off hours spent in the company of your real family. This exercise is simply missing the entire point.

Social networking via the Web is indeed a marvelous trick. Our ability to connect and share has increased exponentially with the advent and acceptance of tools like Facebook and Twitter. But these tools were built on the presumption that we are social animals, interested in making connections and sharing experiences. Experiences. Not virtual status updates or digital media. If given the opportunity to experience a real world connection, does it make any sense to eschew that opportunity for a chance to play the next round of Words with Friends? Not in my book. My take on our brave new world may seem quaint, but to me social networking is meant to enhance and not usurp the real world experience with friends, family, colleagues and potential clients.

David Carr has a great semi-tongue in cheek list of etiquette rules for smartphone use over at the NYT, and I have to say I agree with most, if not all, of them. Maybe he is old-fashioned too. But maybe David and I will have our heads up when something exciting happens in our real world environment. I doubt either one of us will say “Damn! That siting of President Obama made me lose my chance to tend my Farmville garden!” 

As Aesop once wisely said “Beware that you do not lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.”

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