Mobiles & politeness

Most of the time I am very much in favour of technology but I also see its drawbacks.

Take mobile phones for example. They have been a blessing in so many ways, allowing you to phone someone in an emergency or when you are lost.

They have been even more of a boon in the South African context because they are the means of communication for the many who have no access to fixed-line telephones.

The trouble with them, however, is that many people don’t keep them for emergencies, but use them to share with their list of contacts, every random and inconsequential thought that enters their heads.

It’s bad when you get people in public places sharing every banal detail of their lives in piercing voices and even worse when you’re in company and someone starts checking messages or answering calls on their mobile, without a by-your-leave.

Call me old-fashioned if you will, but I think that’s pretty impolite. In the past, it was expected that, when talking to someone, you gave them your full attention.**

It would not have been considered okay to get up and walk off for five or 10 minutes without a word of explanation. Yet it now happens all the time when people answer their phone and walk off to find a quiet place in the shopping centre, to talk.

Even worse, is when they have their chat there and then at the table, leaving the rest of the party staring into space, in boredom or with some embarrassment, depending on how intimate the conversation gets.

I have never tried this, but I have wondered what would go through the phoning person’s mind if everyone else carried on talking loudly amongst themselves. They’d probably think their friends had no consideration for them.

Mobile phones are relatively new but I think it’s high time a consensus began to emerge about what is considered polite and what is not. I think it would be a considerable improvement if we only used our phones when alone or, if in company and unavoidable, we made our excuses first and kept conversation to the absolute minimum.

Another gripe I have with mobile phones is that they do make their users contactable all the time and have thereby cut into many people’s relaxation and leisure time.

One friend had the right idea and religiously switched off his phone outside working hours. It would probably be even better to have a private and a business number on the same phone so that you could ignore the business one after hours, but still be contactable by friends and family.

The last thing about mobiles that worries me, is their use while driving motor car cars. A scary experience recently has left me with the feeling that it really is better not to use my phone while driving.

I’m not sure that a hands-free kit is a viable option either. It’s not holding the phone that kills you; plenty of people drive one-handed on a regular basis, and are used to it.

What actually can kill you is concentrating too much on talking and not enough on piloting yourself safely through traffic.

I heard a suggestion from a panellist on the Buzz Out Loud technology podcast, which made perfect sense to me. It was suggested that the solution would be a phone that knows when you’re driving, and doesn’t distract you by beeping or ringing.

Such a system would be able to automatically reply to your text messages and calls along the lines of; "Hello, I’m driving and don’t feel like dying today! I’ll call you later."

I haven’t even got to the long-term effects on society when people get so used to interacting with each other on online social networks, accessed via their phones, that they forget how to get on with real people, but I’ll save that for another day.


** Maybe I’m wrong in believing that politeness is important or, even, desirable, but I don’t think so. In my view, a society whose members have no consideration for each and are concerned only with gratifying themselves, will not be a society for too long.


2 thoughts on “Mobiles & politeness

  1. Dear Allen,

    I loved your article Sunday Tribune 16/01/11 on cellphone etiquette and the dangers of phoning while driving.

    Oprah has started a massive campaign for No Texting while driving and gets celebs to sign a pledge that they won’t text and drive again.

    We need to start a huge campaign in the media on this topic – why don’t you think about it???


    • Maggie, I’ll certainly plug phone abstinence while driving, whenever I get an opportunity. I think the phones are going to have to get smarter and switch themselves off if you’re in the driving seat with the engine running. It is just so hard hard to resist answering when the phone goes, or glancing at messages.

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