What is cellphone etiquette anyway?

We had an appointment. We both showed up. The conversation began.

The phone beeped…

The conversation paused, texting done, conversation resumed.

The phone beeped…

The conversation paused, a brief text response, conversation course shift.

The phone beeped…


While sitting at a coffee shop, I watched this repeated pattern play out:

  • adult with adult…
  • teen with teen…
  • parent with teen…
  • cashier with client…
  • client with cashier…

Reality check: we have all done this. But in the mere thirty minutes of observing this pattern, I began to notice this curiosity angst rising up in me that went something like this:

  • What is someone else doing?
  • Am I missing something?
  • What if there is some place better to be?

What is phone etiquette nowadays? And how do we “teach” this to our teenagers? Or is the better question, is there something here for us to learn together?

They sat in my office married barely a year and his phone repeatedly vibrated, turning his attention away from our counseling session. Each time we all paused as he fought the urge to exit our conversation and check and see what was happening right outside of his reach. Her pain oozed out in these words, “I only wish he were this present to me in our marriage.”

Does my phone, this fancy device that I use for communication (and really, really, really like) have the capacity to culturally reshape my being present and face-to-face with others? Am I enslaved to my fear of missing something?

Let’s face it parents, the only world our teenagers know is the one where they can carry their phones in their pockets. No closet-hiding, vintage cord phone calls like us in our teen years. Teens are wireless to just about every electronic experience they encounter.

So what does this have to teach us?

How is this impacting more than this moment, but the future of how we engage as human beings? I watched a recent short, 3-minute TEDtalk by Renny Gleeson that highlighted the good of electronics, but also the danger of them making us less human. If you’re addicted to TEDtalks like myself, you might need to watch this one.

Parents I believe that you are the best educators of your teenagers. So here’s a question for you: how do you use your own cellphone? Have you created any “no phone zones” that require face-to-face communication times?

Our curiosity does not always need to be satisfied, instead there is so much we can learn from the mysterious place of sometime just not knowing. If we let ourselves linger in wondering and not knowing… who knows what could happen! In those moments we might actually get to encounter a face-to-face.

~ becky

Watch tomorrow for my blog post highlighting National Cyber Awareness Month for the scoop on a new app that makes sexting oh-to-private on our cellphones.

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