It hasn't received much publicity, so it may surprise you to know that July
is Cell Phone Courtesy Month. We’re halfway through without many people
But why do we need to be reminded about being polite and considerate when
we use our phones? Because, it seems, we humans have become experts at
annoying or endangering others when we use them.
Let's just think of a few ways that can happen.
- We might use them in places we shouldn't, like cinemas or even a doctor's
office, forgetting to mute them or turn them off.
- We might talk too loudly. Some people will quite happily drag us into
their conversations by shouting into their phones, inside a restaurant or
store, or even in a peaceful public library. In a survey some years ago,
87% of us said we'd witnessed loudly intrusive phone calls, sometimes using
abusive language. Our bet is that percentage is even higher today.
- Or, they watch movies or play games with volume on high.
- Some phones blare out on high volume with some of the most intrusive
ringtones imaginable – often while we're trying to enjoy some peace and
quiet, say on the beach or in a park.
- They invade our personal privacy. Phones are used publicly and secretly
to take photographs. Sometimes you see hordes of rubberneckers
inconsiderately recording videos of accidents and other dramas. And they’ve
been used to commit privacy offenses.
- Some use them indiscreetly, allowing bystanders to eavesdrop on
confidential and personal information – though you could say that's their
- People review their phone or answer calls when you're in the middle of a
conversation with them.
- They pull them out during meetings and other inappropriate times to check
for text messages and emails.
Get the picture? Add to that, they're conversation killers. How often do
you see gatherings of people, in restaurants and airport lounges for
example, all staring at their phone screens, isolating themselves from
It's been 46 years since the first mobile phone call was made and around 35
years since the first public services were introduced. In that time, cell
phones have become ubiquitous – nearly everyone has one. It's a rare right
to spot someone who doesn’t have a phone in their pocket, on their belt, in
their hands or purse.
Yet, it seems, many of us haven't learned enough about using them politely,
requiring a whole month to be devoted to putting us right!
That was the thinking of Jacqueline Whitmore, author of the book Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work, back in
2002, when she founded Cell Phone Courtesy Month.
Later, she told HuffPost.com contributor Karen Leland (
) : "Wireless phones and other electronic devices have become so important
to keeping people in touch with information they want and need. It's
important to educate people about the proper way to use these devices so
that they're still in touch, but not annoying those around them."
10 Courtesy Rules
Here are 10 tips from Whitmore and others on considerate cell phone use:
- Don't use your phone – turn it off if necessary – when you're in a
situation that demands your full attention. Don't keep checking it for
- In fact, when you're with others, say at a restaurant or a business
meeting, keep your phone out of sight. Placing it on the desk or table is
like inviting someone else to the party. Turn it off or switch to vibrate
if you can. Oh, and about that awful, blaring ringtone… please choose
something quieter and calmer.
- Be aware of your surroundings, so you can keep the content of your call
private and non-distracting. Try the 10-foot rule – in a public place try
to put that amount of distance between yourself and others and away from
walls and windows where you might be overheard
- Avoid getting angry during a call in a public place. Go to a more
private setting if necessary, or delay the call to a more appropriate time
- Don't shout – "cell yell" as Whitmore calls it. Just use a normal
conversational tone (though some people use shouting as their normal
- Also keep the volume down when you're watching video – or use
- Don’t use your phone in places where they're forbidden. Look for and
obey posted notices or spoken requests.
- Warn your companions in advance if you're expecting a call you
absolutely must take. Then excuse yourself and leave when the call arrives.
- If you have to take an emergency call while you're with others,
apologize and excuse yourself.
- Use SMS texting instead of making a call when you can to avoid causing
Let's not overlook one other important aspect of phone misuse. It's not so
much about a courtesy, more of a life-saver.
We break the law by using hand-held phones in our cars to make calls or
text messages. It's been illegal in Maryland, folks, since 2013 (and since
2011 for texting). Yet, a survey earlier this year found that 80% of
drivers in the Baltimore admit to still using them while driving. And it's
the same in most parts of the US.
Please don't drive and talk or text. Even hands-free calling has been shown
to be unsafe.
Also remember, on the other hand, that cell phones have made a huge
positive difference to some people's lives – helping our kids stay in touch
with us, enabling people to be rescued, keeping in touch with others during
natural disasters, and simply summoning help by being able to call 911 on
Are you one of the people who are guilty of discourteous phone use, or
otherwise breaking the rules? Probably all of us have offended at some
Used correctly and courteously, cell phones have an important role to play
in our society, our communications and our culture. And they're here to
stay – at least until we can transfer our thoughts to each other without
Let's give cell phone good manners our best shot – not just in July but
throughout the year.
By the way…
Did you know you can get cell phone insurance? Your homeowners or renters
policy will likely cover damage or theft but there's usually a hefty
deductible. It also doesn’t protect you if you simply lose the phone – all
too common these days. If you'd like to know more on this, please get in
touch with the friendly professionals at Kirby Insurance.