Intel Survey on Mobile Manners

Karen Regis from Intel speaks to Anna Post (center) and Dr. Genevieve Bell (right) from Intel at the "Mobile Manners over Martinis" event at The Campbell Apartment in New York, Feb. 24, 2011.

by Anna Post

Last night I joined Intel Fellow and anthropologist Genevieve Bell for “Mobile Etiquette over Martinis,” an event hosted by Intel to share the latest research on the state of mobile etiquette in America.

When I first reviewed the new survey statistics, I was struck by what appeared to be a paradox: People claiming they wanted others to have better mobile etiquette, yet they admitted to lacking that behavior themselves. Eighty percent, in fact, are annoyed when they see others use a mobile device such as a laptop, smart phone, or tablet in places such as a grocery store, doctor’s office, public transit, elevator, airplane, while on a date or at a wedding or funeral, to name just a few. And yet a whopping 77 percent admit to using a device at one of these times or places.

Seems hypocritical? It makes a funny kind of sense to me. The phenomenal technologies we now have at our fingertips are almost too convenient at times. They allow us to handle business and personal matters while carrying out our day in public. Need to take a quick call from the kids while you’re checking out at the grocery store? Family is a priority in your life, so you answer the call. You’re invested in what’s happening at the other end of the line—and reasonably so.

But there in lies the problem. Those around you aren’t invested in the reasoning; they’re just bothered by the rudeness of it. And all those people who offend us? They’re just making the same call—one we’re not invested in.

We all appreciate the convenience of mobile technology, and the ever-present nature of it means it’s with us in public places. We are not, however, always surrounded by sympathetic friends and family in public. We’re surrounded by people who have no say in our choices, but are still affected by them.

Whether we’re talking about mobile etiquette technology or not, etiquette is, at its very core, about considerate interaction with others, whether you know them or not. And yet 88% of respondents to the recent Intel study on the topic of mobile etiquette believe that people rarely take others into consideration when using their mobile devices in public.

The solution is two fold. First, manage your time and other’s expectations, no matter how easy the technology makes it to respond immediately. You can return a call instead of answering, wait to answer a text, or excuse yourself for a minute to check email. Better yet, don’t keep a mobile device handy when you know you shouldn’t answer it. In a meeting? Put your laptop lid down. Better yet, keep your mobile devices in your handbag, briefcase or pocket.

To be clear, the devices aren’t “bad”—it’s all in how we choose to use them.

Second, increase your own awareness of how your mobile device behavior affects those around you. It’s easy to see others get it wrong, but not so easy to see it in ourselves. Most of us have good intentions. According to the recent Intel survey, respondents report seeing other people misuse their mobile technology five times in an average day. My challenge to you: find your number. Notice how many times a day you use your mobile device in a way that would bother you should someone else do it, and work toward zero.

What should we do when we put a personal reason to respond to a device in public above the annoyance it causes others? Apologize. Since you’re effectively anonymous in public, it’s all too easy to ignore the situation.  But to those you might have bothered, you just became part of the problem. While it’s better not to bother others in the first place, an apology is the next best thing.

At then end of the day, it all came down to one statistic for me from the recent Intel study: 92 percent of Americans wish people practiced better etiquette when it comes to using their mobile devices in public. So no more using a laptop while driving (yes: 24 percent of people saw others do this), making calls at the gym or during a crowded morning commute, or texting while at the movies or the grocery check out. Because the survey shows that the offenders aren’t some anonymous other group; really, we’re just talking about ourselves.


  1. Laura

    Thank you for posting this. It’s interesting to see the numbers.

    We have some friends that run game nights. Some of the game nights are device free (no cell phones, no PDAs, etc.) but it’s interesting to see who can’t quite bring themselves to declare their nights to be device free because of their own tendency to want to “just check something real quick”.

  2. Alicia

    I think there is a wide variety in the mentioned things. “Eighty percent, in fact, are annoyed when they see others use a mobile device such as a laptop, smart phone, or tablet in places such as a grocery store, doctor’s office, public transit, elevator, airplane, while on a date or at a wedding or funeral, to name just a few. ”
    For example any of those laptop,tablet, smart phone while waiting in a doctors office seems no different then using a magazine or chatting to a friend. However, if in the doctors office being seen byu a doctor that is rude for all three. I have no idea how one would even use a laptop on an elevator or in the grocery store. I have no problem with someone using a cell phone in the grocery store unless they are at check out. I think that these numbers are unfair.
    I generally think that laptops are apropriate anywhere you would pull out files and look at something. ( ie coffee shops work school) Tablets, e-readers, and smartphones being used for non phone applications are appropriate anywhere where a book or magazine is appropriate. Cell phones used as phones are appropriate wherever a seperate different topic conversation with another person would be appropriate( so chatting on a cell phone in the middle of a doctors appointment or wedding is rude but not when you are bored in a waiting room)

    • Mark

      You talk about being able to have a conversation in the waiting room… I think you are missing something. People should not have to hear your public conversation. The people around you should not be forced to listen to the personal discussion you are having. How much more difficult would it be to move to a more discrete loaction and make the call.

      This all goes to consideration… When I become more important than you … Its rude. It might seem convienient, but its rude. I understand if it is an emergency, but if it is not…. don’t have the conversation.

      To think more on the subject, how many people grab the cell phone to talk to someone in the same building (or “gasp” within your own home). These devices are used by some to not have personal communication (Face to face and eye to eye). I know regularly see young people looking down at devices and talking to each other. I asked some why are they double tasking and was frightend to learn that they were becoming uncomfortable looking at each other while talking…. so they were faking loking at the iphone.

      Big picture you should communicate with people not devices… Cell phone if an emergency OK…. To discuss local daily gossip …. Never OK. Meet the person or don’t talk.

      • Guy

        I think it goes too far and is hypocritical to be offended by a cell phone conversation in a waiting room or public space. The only criterion seems to be if the other person is in the same room or space. That’s not supportable. IMHO, if it’s OK to have a conversation in the room or space with another person, it’s OK to have a phone call.

        • the man

          have you never noticed the difference in tone, pitch and body language while talking on the phone in one appears to be a one-sided conversation, and having a conversation with another live person in the same space/room? the first is indeed louder, more animated and down right intrusive, while the latter is often carried out in a relatively mellow “private” manner, where frequently the 2 persons in the conversation are more conscious of others around them… don’t no why that’s the case, but it is… have you never noticed it?

          • Mme N B

            So, if the only problem is that in your opinion cell phone conversations tend to be louder than in-person ones, the moral is “it’s rude to have loud conversations”, not “it’s rude to have one-sided conversations”.

          • Kelly

            I read some research that showed a one-sided conversation has a different affect on our brain than a two-sided conversation. Even at the same volume and general tone, our brains are tuned to hear and pay attention to the one-sided conversation — theoretically because our brain thinks we should respond. Our brains have a much easier time tuning out the two-sided conversation.

        • Guy, why do you think that? Before 1995, cellphone conversations were almost unheard of. Think about it, in only 15 years we went from no cellphone conversations to what we have today. No phone, no text, no Wi-Fi. Now if you’re in your early 20s, that probably seems perfectly normal to you, but if you’re 35 or older (which is about half of all of us), then that period was a huge change.

          Others made the point that cellphone conversations tend to be louder, but I’d add that frequently they are a LOT louder, and much harder to block out. The two situations are not analagous, especially since in a “normal” conversation, both parties would be present and bystanders wouldn’t be hearing one side of the conversation. In person, you might be ok with talking in public but your conversational partner might not. With a phone, that person doesn’t realize that the two of you are discussing certain subjects around certain people – which they might not do if they were there.

  3. Mme N B

    Exactly how is a cell phone conversation more rude than an in-person conversation?
    If I was in an elevator or a doctor’s office with a friend there would be no rudeness in our talking to each other. If my friend is not there, but I’m talking to her by cell the situation is the same, and the amount of noise is halved. And seriously, if seeing someone use a laptop on an airplane annoys people they should get a life.

    • There are scientific studies that prove our frustration levels increase and our productivity decreases if we are subjected to a cell phone conversation. Apparently our brain is able to ignore a conversation if both parties can be heard, but struggles to do the same if only one side is heard. That’s why it is perceived by some to be rude.

      “It’s definitely changed my own etiquette,” says [Lauren] Emberson, [Ph.D. candidate]. “I’m a lot more sensitive about talking on the phone in public. It has a really profound effect on the cognition of the people around you, and it’s not because they’re eavesdropping or they’re bad people. Their cognitive mechanism basically means that they’re forced to listen.”

      The article, “Overheard Cell-Phone Conversations: When Less Speech Is More Distracting” was recently published in the journal Psychological Science.

      • Mme N B

        Just because something frustrates people does not make that something wrong or rude. I, for instance, am frustrated, and my productivity decreases, when I am surrounded by people in purple tights, but that does not mean that it’s rude to go into a waiting room or on an airplane wearing purple tights.

        • This would be a sound argument except that sound permeates the spaces of others, whereas a visual interference need only be mitigated by averting one’s gaze. A person screaming in a restaurant is highly disruptive, while a woman wearing an inappropriate skirt at a funeral is distracting, but the distraction is easily overcome by turning away.

          • Guy

            It’s only distracting if you are eavesdropping. The study above only has data to support it is distracting; the comments about it being inherent to the cognitive mechanism is only an opinion, and was not tested in the study. I could just as easily (in fact more strongly) make the case that it is more distracting because eavesdroppers are trying to fill in the other half of the conversation. Just as one may say, don’t look (at purple tights), another can say, don’t eavesdrop; it’s rude. :) (Thank goodness that, courtesy of the the iEverything and white earphones, I truly *can* tune in, turn on and drop out.)

          • Mme N B

            Loud conversations (the kind it’s impossible not to overhear) are rude, whether or not they are conducted over the phone, and quiet ones are just as easily avoided as the sight of a person in purple tights – just don’t listen to other people’s conversations, and there’s no reason you’ll even be aware of how many parties are participating in the discussion.

          • Guy, that would be like saying that someone is rude for breathing in the cigarette smoke of someone standing 5′ away. Not everyone can block out conversations happening next to them (people with Asperger’s Syndrome, for example). And in some places, like the doctor’s office or on public transit, the other person can’t just go somewhere else to get away from it.

            Courtesy is a two-way street, it’s the responsibility of all involved parties.

  4. Daniel Post Senning

    I think that the first question you ask is a good one. I would guess that some people find it unsettling in some way to be subjected to one half of a conversation. If the other person was present they would be accorded the same courtesy as anyone, but they are not. There is no way for the other people in the elevator or office to respond in an effective way to the unseen half of the dialogue if it gets too personal, loud, or long. The immediacy of the people who are around us might deserve some consideration to balance the ease with which they can be affected by the choice to chat it up with someone who is not present. The fact that the act is perceived as rude could be enough to give pause weather we think it is or not. An awareness of how actions affect others, with perception playing a large role in this, is ultimately at the heart of good etiquette.

    As far as laptops on planes, as long as they are not loud or profane I agree that they are generally fair game once the “use of approved electronic devices” is announced.

    • Mme N B

      1. It’s rude to have dialogues that are too loud, and foolish to have dialogues that are too personal in a public space (can’t figure out what the problem is with long), whether or not it’s on the phone or in person, so no reason to make a special rule for cell phones.
      2. Surely it is easier to chat up a friend who is present, than one who is not.
      3. The mere fact that someone perceives an action to be rude does not give me pause unless I can figure out a rational reason behind their perception. Your point “An awareness of how actions affect others, with perception playing a large role in this, is ultimately at the heart of good etiquette.” is a good one, but there is a lot of distance between awareness and action. For instance, I know a number of people who think it rude and ill-mannered of men to sit on a train while there are women standing, but I would not consider their opinion to be a reason for a tired man to stand up and offer his seat to a social equal.

  5. joe

    there is no paradox, only statistics.
    I would probably be apalled if someone pulled out a laptop at my funeral. I don’t hesitate to use my cell phone in the supermarket. Is this paradoxical? No, but I believe that puts me square in the middle of both the 80% and 77% groups cited above.

  6. Toni

    I can pretty much deal with technology usage except @ the dinner table, in the restroom, funerals/weddings, driving (the driver) or @ church. I take a hardline stance on these. I have 4 teenagers and my husband and I both work in technology field… anything else would be gravy. :)

    On a side note I can’t tell you how many times I’ve answered someone who was using a bluetooth and they weren’t actually talking to me.

    • Tom

      I remember growing up where we were tied to the wall if someone called. Here at work we now use PTT to do everything. Nothing worse than having someone PTT you while in the restroom; other than receiving my reply back (the sound of the flushing water).

  7. vammjake

    There are really 2 times, IMHO, that phones are “NOT ALLOWED”
    1) while using public bathrooms
    2) while driving in heavy traffic – I’ve had 3 close calls just this week.

  8. Sheila

    I think that manners and etiquette in general are in a severe decline, it’ s not just with mobile electronics. The addition of the multitude of mobile devices is really just making a bad situation even worse. It comes down to basic courtesy and respect for others, in my mind. Having a conversation with face to face with another person is different than a conversation on the phone because there’s a different level of personal awareness. I feel I’m far more aware of my space and surroundings when I’m talking face to face because I’m already engaged in “more” than just the talk.. facial expressions, body language, etc. On the phone, we loose a lot of that. Plus, it feels like people tend to have FAR more personal conversations on their cell phone in public (or maybe just more loudly) than they would if they were just talking face to face with someone. The phones, mp3 players, and other mobile devices that are used “on the go” distract one’s focus from doing things like stopping right in the middle of walking traffic not knowing people are behind, opening doors for others, waiting at the elevator/train/bus/etc for passengers to get off before getting on, and doing the courtesy basics of human interaction like saying “Hello” and “Thank you” to the grocery store clerk. There is a time and place for the use of devices and that is not 100% of every moment in every day. Get aware and set boundaries for yourself. Show respect for the people around you, no matter what the situation.

  9. Michelle

    My concern lately has to do more with the message we are sending our young children. Is it okay to check email/text when you are listening to how the day went? Would you like it if they did the same to you? There is the problem…it is okay to give only partial attention to others when you are in the lead but not for others to give you only partial attention. Do unto others is where I net out on this subject….

  10. Mike

    Want to use a laptop or cell at MY funeral? Personally I will have no issue with it as I will already be long gone.

    Use of a laptop, tablet in a waiting room or on public transit? Why not? I’m siting there burning daylight anyway. The doctor is never on time anyway. Sounds like a good time to watch a little recorded TV or whatever. Aint no different than wipping out an E-Reader.

  11. Macci

    Here are some simple rules.

    Don’t fiddle with your handheld device in any situation where you wouldn’t read a newspaper. (Dinner table, church, etc)

    Don’t expose your handheld device anywhere where you wouldn’t brandish a camera. (Lockeroom)

    Don’t talk on your phone in any situation where you wouldn’t talk with a friend if he were standing or sitting beside you. And don’t talk about anything you wouldn’t talk about with a friend standing next to you. (Library, movie theater, don’t talk on the phone about the football game while at a funeral.)

    Be available for interruptions while on the phone the same as you would be if you were talking with a friend who was standing next to you. (I.e. If some says “can I take your order please,” don’t ignore them.)

    Yes folks have to learn to get over that weird, “he’s talking to himself … oh no, wait he’s talking on his phone” distraction. I noticed younger people seems to have gotten over it. Older folks who didn’t grow up with mobile phones still make a double take if they see someone talking on the phone.

  12. Alisa11

    I’m a mom and I need to know where my teenager is and she’s expected to call or text me that information. It usually takes less than a minute and if it interupts something I always apologize and explain it’s my daughter. I have another daughter that is developmentally disabled and she also needs to get a hold of me. I do apologize for interuptions and keep them to a minimum, but I won’t stop, it’s necessary to my parenting.

  13. Peter G.

    Anna Post said “… etiquette is, at its very core, about considerate interaction with others…”.

    As Judith Martin famously observed, there are two elements of considerate interaction: 1) Do not offend. 2) Do not be too easily offended. This survey and Anna’s post are all about element one. It’s very important, but it isn’t the whole story.

    People are too sensitive to behaviors associated with mobile electronics simply because mobile electronics are new, and it takes society decades to accommodate this kind of change.

    People can, and will, learn to disregard one-sided conversations, for example. And in the meantime, we must simply _pretend_ to disregard them. That, too, is required by etiquette.

    The people engaging in these behaviors have reasons to do so. We must trust that these reasons are good enough that, if we understood them, we would agree with them– because, after all, our own reasons for these behaviors seem good enough to us.

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  14. Jay

    What wasn’t touched on here and what does affect other people is how using that device directly impacts situations where you are in cooperation with others.

    For example, people can’t do two things at once very well. So when they are talking on the phone, or particularly texting or checking messages or whatever it is they stare at the little screen for, they aren’t walking (or driving, hence the law) very well. They tend to never walk to the side to let others pass or not run into people head on, they walk down the middle at a reduced pace, staring intently at their device. Or they’re in front of you and the elevator door opens and they don’t move because they’re busy with their device. Feel free to move at your own pace, but that doesn’t mean you should inhibit others use of the public area. It’s very easy; move aside to focus on your device, then re-join when done.

    A quick call in a public area is no big deal and understandable, but a long BS session is annoying. I think the difference between hearing a conversation and a cell phone call is you only get half a conversation. You’re subjected to it but don’t get anything out of it. At least hearing a complete conversation gives you both sides to understand something out of it. Eavesdropping is listening to something not meant to be heard by others not participating in the conversaation. That doesn’t apply to a conversation in a public place unless you are trying to be discreet and those aren’t the people we are talking about here. We’d all gladly “not listen” if we could.

    Lastly, the amount of communication we need to respond to in real time is pretty small. Do you need to answer every phone call you get? Do you need to immediately text back? It’s seems rather ironic that people are so concerned about answering the phone yet delay the person actually standing in front of them to do so. There is a happy medium where you don’t need to wait hours to respond, but you don’t have to respond instantly either. Part of the point of these electronic devices was to free you from having to handle such activities when it is inconvenient. I like messages because I can just get my question sent, don’t have to wait real time for the response and accomplish something else in the meantime.

  15. Guat

    I guess since I have no cell phone and frequently walk into a meeting with nothing but a pen, I should be offending no one, perhaps that is one small positive node in my life…

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