Cellphone Etiquette Viewed Differently Across Generations

A new national survey conducted by by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for the Digital Future in collaboration with the market research and strategy firm Bovitz Inc. finds that many Americans still insist that using a cellphone – or even its visible presence – during a meal, a meeting or in the classroom is a failure of etiquette.

However, the researchers note that cellphone etiquette convictions can also vary dramatically by age or the type of technology that respondents use.

For example, the survey reported that even the mere presence of a mobile device on the table during a meal was judged inappropriate by 62 percent of total respondents, and of course texting during a meal was considered a more grievous breach of etiquette (judged inappropriate by 76 percent of respondents), as of course were emailing (79 percent) and browsing the Web (80 percent), but the ultimate ultimate cellphone etiquette faux pas at mealtime was talking on a mobile device during a meal, considered inappropriate by 84 percent of total respondents.

However, Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism comments that “We’re finding a whole new social etiquette developing about the appropriateness of mobile devices. Fifty years ago, no parent would tolerate a child answering the phone five times during a meal. Now parents face an updated version of that problem when confronting their children about the endless stream of texts they want to answer while the family is together for dinner.”

At least, Dr Cole continues, we have evidence that a large percentage of Americans believes some behavior involving the mobile devices in our lives is not appropriate. Whether we do anything about it is a separate issue.

As for cellphone etiquette in other venues, the researchers also reported high levels of disapproval for using mobile devices during meetings, with large percentages of respondents deeming it inappropriate to check email (76 percent), send texts (79 percent), browse the Web (81 percent) or talk on the phone (90 percent).

More ominously, the study also found dissonance in perspective on the propriety of cellphone use in social settingd, with younger respondents more tolerant of cellphones at meals, during meetings or in class. The type of device usage also made a difference, with 11 percent of basic cellphone owners saying it was appropriate to text during a meeting, but more than twice that proportion – 25 percent – of smartphone owners contending it was appropriate.

The sharpest divergence in views found in the study was disparity between how millennials (people born after 1982) and those over the age of 30 perceive the appropriateness of cellphones in social settings, with much higher percentages of millennials deeming mobile device use appropriate at a meals, meetings or in class regardless of what type of cellphone they own, with for example a whopping 50 percent of millennials imagining it appropriate to text during a meal, compared to only 15 percent of those 30 and older.

The USC survey’s findings on appropriate cellphone behavior will be reported in the annual report on the impact of the Internet in America, which will be released late this month by the Center for the Digital Future.

Personally, I bridle at the concept of cellphone use of any sort in social venues, refuse to sustain conversations with individuals simultaneously dividing their attention between me and a mobile device, and still harbor the quaint notion that manners and etiquette are important.


You can find an infographic illustrating generational dissonance on cellphone etiquette based on the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future/Bovitz Inc. survey here:

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