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6 Rules to Avoid Being a Smartphone Jerk

Smartphones have taken the world by storm. One of my students tells me she knows second-graders who have them. If those children are like most...

Smartphones have taken the world by storm. One of my students tells me she knows second-graders who have them. If those children are like most users, they're probably hooked! A recent study found that the average person checks their phone more than 100 times per day. So I wasn’t surprised when NPR recently contacted me to discuss smartphone etiquette (see also) after reading one of my Psychology Today blog posts regarding addictions to smartphones (see also). Based on that conversation and others, here are a few simple rules that can help you not become a smartphone jerk:

  1. People trump phones: When out with others, always remember that people trump phones. It's a good mantra to recite and remember. Nothing feels ruder than trying to talk with someone who keeps looking at their phone. One simple rule is to put flesh before machine—being with others always comes before checking the phone.

  2. Ask before picking up: Of course, sometimes you really do need to take a call, check your email, read a text, or see how your favorite sports team is doing in a big game. But if someone is in your presence, ask him or her first if they mind you doing so. Showing respect goes a long way.

  3. Don’t make people wait: Don’t frustrate service providers, colleagues, friends, family, or anyone by making them wait for you to look up from your phone. Servers, store clerks, baristas, and neighbors are people, too, and it can frustrate them to no end to have to wait for someone to get their nose out of their phone before providing service or a response.

  4. Don’t multitask: Cognitive science research shows that people really don’t do two things at once. Rather, they shift attention in bursts between focal points. So, you really aren’t checking your phone and listening to others at the same time. You're just quickly shifting your attention between multiple tasks and diminishing your attention to both.

  5. Think vibrate rather than sound alerts: You know how annoying it is when you are in a theater, class, a lecture, religious service, or some other quiet place and noisy phone alerts interrupt the event. We all forget to silence our phones now and then so having our phones on vibrate and silence as a default option can solve this problem. 

  6. Three words: Kindness, graciousness, and respect: If you try to be kind, gracious, and respectful to others, the reality of smartphone use and abuse will become clear. If you start all of your actions with kindness, graciousness, and respect you really can’t go wrong.

Smartphones are terrific inventions. Like any new invention, they can result in problematic unintended consequences. If we follow just a few rules we will avoid becoming a smartphone jerk and others will thank us for our efforts.



*A version of this article was originally published by Psychology Today on May 29, 2013.


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