How Not To Be A Dick On Your Phone: REALISTIC EDITION

No matter how many screeds will be written bemoaning the effect technology has had on our socialization skills, facts are facts: Most of us are not going to be able to leave our phones in our pockets for an entire evening.
Publish date:
July 18, 2014
etiquette, texting, how not to be a dick, netiquette, cell phones

Look. I get it, OK? I get it. Sometimes, you're out at a bar in a group of people you barely know, and instead of sleepily nodding along to a conversation about True Detective or Jonathan Franzen, you decide to briefly check in with your hip friends on the World Wide Web.

Is this rude? Possibly. But in a mixed group of individuals gathered in a space where you can barely hear yourself think, let alone have an earnest discussion about which Bon Iver album was the most aurally and emotionally striking, sometimes it's preferable to accidentally lapsing into melting-face out of discomfort.

No matter how many screeds will be written bemoaning the effect technology has had on our socialization skills, facts are facts: Most of us are not going to be able to leave our phones in our pockets (or, God forbid, at home) for an entire evening, regardless of the lectures we receive from people on the Internet and/or our grandmothers.

Maybe you can. Maybe you're a stronger person than I am. But as someone who suffers from a gut-punching combination of generalized anxiety and Fear Of Missing Out on events (both of the "social" and "Kaiju invasion-level natural disaster" variety), trying to go more than a single waking hour without access to some communication device renders me skin-itchy and tooth-ground.

Even so! We are humans, and humans get miffed with each other when we feel like we're being ignored in favor of a tiny computer someone carries around in her pocket. This, too, is reasonable. So over the course of the last few years, I've developed a set of semi-unconscious rules that I follow whenever I feel the need to bust out my phone in the company of others. Though they may not actually be helping me be less dick-ish, they make me feel like I'm being less dick-ish. And is dick-hattery avoidance not 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration?

Anyway, here are my top five ways not to be a jerkwad while on one's cell phone:

1. Keep up a running commentary of literally everything you are doing. When I'm hanging out with someone and they're glued to their phone instead of indulging in witty (read: drunken) banter, I naturally assume that they're texting someone with whom they'd rather be hanging. To combat this feeling in others, I compulsively inform them of every action I am taking. (This does have the semi-unfortunate side effect of expecting others to do the same thing, which means I habitually stick my face into people's texting-space before remembering that not everyone feels the nigh-constant need to overshare.) In practice, my conversations frequently dissolve into this:

"Sorry, my mom just texted me to tell me my cat has pancreatitis -- yeah, it's no big deal but I'm just going to send her a SnapChat of my sad face so she knows I'll call her later -- oh, I'm just Googling where to find "Get Well Soon" cards for kittens -- sorry, I'm, yeah, I'm on Twitter. ::long silence:: OK, what did you say?"

I liken this to the phenomenon of telling someone where you're going when you leave a conversation -- they don't need to know you're going to hover over the crudité because you forgot to eat lunch and have an obsession with dried-out baby carrots, but it seems better than just melting toward the kitchen without another word.

2. Know your surroundings. Someone once told me that they consider phone use to be akin to reading a book, and that they only indulge in the former when the latter would be appropriate. Keep in mind, however, that my mom once let me bring a Tamora Pierce book about a girl who has Relations with a crow into my Catholic Confirmation ceremony, so I have some skewed ideas about the correct time and place for reading. (There's also the fact that I am frequently reading books on my phone, so my brain just tends to conflate the two anyway.)

That said, think about whether the person you're with has an entertainment source of their own, preferably one aside from their own device of choice. If you're, say, out to dinner with someone, and you abruptly abandon them in the middle of speaking to stare at the notification you just got, you might be a dick. If you're on a long bus ride together and they're gazing dolefully out the window, meh, I think you're in the clear. If they are using the bathroom and/or screwing around on their own phone, hey, they started it. Go to town.

3. Take your cue from others. Related to the above, most of us have friends with whom we could conceivably browse Tumblr in complete silence for hours. Cherish these people, for they are the anthropomorphic equivalent of an electric blanket. If you're lounging at a BFF's house with whom you already spend most of your time, I think it's within your etiquette rights to read an article on The Hairpin while the two of you are half-comatose on the couch, even if she isn't actively on a device of her own.

That said, no one is immune from annoyance at being snubbed for electronics, so don't make this into a 24/7 habit. (Also, maybe consider sending some of these folks texts of their own once in a while, just so they think you're ignoring someone else in favor of them. Keeps the spark alive!)

Similarly, some people have a strict no-phones-around-others policy for themselves. It is not hard to identify them: They are the ones who don't even want to check what time the bus is arriving or where the movie theater is. Respect these souls' late-’90s nostalgia and keep your phone hidden, too. The same goes for people trying to take your drink order or ring you up at 7-11.

4. For the love of God, turn it on silent. A great way to provoke your loved ones and co-workers into hurling your device into the nearest body of water is to leave the little "CHIRRUP!" text alert on full blast. You can even leave your "Battle Cry" ringtone on, if you're expecting an important call from a potential client or just want to show everyone that your music taste is top-notch. But especially given the frequency with which many people receive texts or emails, the constant noise-induced adrenaline rush is just too much to handle.

5. At the end of the day, spend more time looking people in the eye than staring at your screen. Nobody is going to fault you for sending your boss a quick email explaining what time you'll file the TPS reports, but don't be the guy who's more familiar with Reddit than his friends' kids' baby pictures.

Do you guys set rules like this for yourselves? How often do you break them? Am I doomed to be a dick no matter what? (Probably.) Let me know in the comments or at @katchatters, bros.