Cell Phone Use Among Friends? How Rude!

30 September, 2015

Here's the situation. You're sitting at the table listening to the conversation when your cell phone buzzes. There is something VERY IMPORTANT that wants your attention.

Maybe your phone buzzed for an email, text message, Facebook post or tweet. You don't know unless you check your phone.

You may be feeling a strong case of #FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.

What can it hurt to check your phone?

Cell Phones in Meetings
Cell Phones in Meetings

You may think that a quick check of your phone isn't rude. Your companions probably disagree.

A recent study of cell phone use by the Pew Research Center found that most US adults think checking your phone is rude in social situations.

The study found that only 5 percent of Americans felt that checking your cell phone during a meeting is acceptable. Only 12 percent approve of checking your cell phone during a family dinner.

The study said, "Americans think that when people focus on their phones instead of their companions, it hurts the group in which they are participating.

People can be offended when they feel ignored. They also don’t like others who talk too loudly or share private information in public when using their phones.

Antisocial or Social?

Using your phone can have both a social and antisocial effect.

You are being social when you are using your phone to connect with others and plan social events. You may be antisocial when you use your phone in front of other people.

Most people do not realize they are being antisocial when they are using their phone around others.

According to the study, "antisocial behavior itself is rarely a primary motivator. At the same time, those around the cellphone user may still experience that other person’s phone use as anti-social, even if that was not the explicit intention of the user."

About three-fourths of US adults view using cell phones in public as acceptable when using public transit, waiting in line, and walking down the street. But most US adults disapprove of cell phone use at the dinner table, in movie theaters, meetings, and places of worship.

It's Different for Me

Most people use cell phones in social situations even though they believe it is rude: 89 percent surveyed said they had used their cell phones during a recent social event.

But Everyone's Doing It

People might use their cell phones in social situations because they see others doing it: 86 percent of people surveyed said that someone else used a phone at the most recent social event they attended.

People may use their phones at social events to share something from the event. That might be a photo, information, or to disengage from the group.

The study found that "82 percent of all adults (not just cell owners) say that when people use their cellphones at social gatherings, it ... occasionally hurts the conversation and atmosphere of the gathering."

You can read the entire study: Americans’ Views on Mobile Etiquette, by the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC, published August 26.

US and the Rest of the World

Pew Research studied Americans' use of cell phones. What about the rest of the world?

What is cell phone etiquette in your country? Do you use your cell phone when you're around others? Did you use your cell phone at your last social event? Were other people using their phones, too? Have people ever been rude to you when they used their cell phones?

Your Thoughts

Do you use your cell phone when you're around others? Did you use your cell phone at your last social event? Were other people using their phones too? Have people ever been rude to you when they used their cell phones?

Share your comments below. Or on our Facebook page.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Carolyn Nicander Mohr wrote this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story


buzz - v. to make the low, continuous sound of a flying insect (such as a bee)

adult - n. a fully grown person or animal

focus - v. to direct your attention or effort at something specific

participate - v. to be involved with others in doing something : to take part in an activity or event with others

ignore - v. to do nothing about or in response to

antisocial - adj. not friendly to other people

motivate - v. to give (someone) a reason for doing something

explicit - adj. very clear and complete: leaving no doubt about the meaning

transit - n. the act of moving people or things from one place to another

survey - n. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something

disengage - v. to stop being involved with a person or group

atmosphere - n. the particular way a place or situation makes you feel

etiquette - n. the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave

infographic - n. a visual image such as a chart or diagram used to represent information or data.