How smartphones lead to rudeness in the workplace

Ten billion apps sold.

The other day the iTunes store announced it had sold its ten billionth app to a person in Orpington, Kent, UK, who had won a $10,000 prize and promptly hung up on Apple when the call came to announce the news to her. (That’s etiquette for another column.) That’s a lot of apps, and that’s a lot of smart phones around the world that house those apps.

As much as smart phones are wonderful devices that enhance our lives, there’s a world of potential rudeness to go with them. Of course, it’s not the phones that are rude but rather the people who use them that’s the problem.


My particular pet peeve is the person who has his phone alert him each time a new email arrives. His phone is set to retrieve those emails every 5 minutes. So, potentially as often as every five minutes, his phone makes sure everyone around him knows he has received yet another email.

That in and of itself not annoying enough to rise to the level of a pet peeve, but what’s really rude is when that tone sounds, he has to look away from you – whom he is talking with – to check out the email. The email, in his mind, is clearly more important than you are.


Even worse is when he then fiddles with his phone to read the email. He might say, “Excuse me,” as he thumbs his phone and even starts replying to it. Regardless of whether he apologizes or not, he is clearly signaling that he’s less interested in you and your conversation than in whatever is going on with his phone. Is Mr. Smart Phone being deliberately rude? If you asked him, he would say that was never his intention, but by being at the beck and call of his device, he’s oblivious to the courtesies owed the people he is with.


My advice for all cell and smart phone user is really very simple: Control it, don’t be controlled by it. Be willing to ignore and even, heresy of heresies, turn it off when its use could interrupt you when you are with others or disturb the people around you.

At the very least, make use of that vibrate/silent ring feature so any interruption is announced only to you. Before whipping out your phone and immediately responding to that vibrating, excuse yourself and step away so your answering it isn’t perceived as rude. Better yet, try to ignore the vibrating, and keep your focus on the people you are with. They’re more important than that phone and deserve your undivided attention.


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