I Check My Phone While Out With People and If You Don’t Like That Please Don’t Hang Out With Me


I recently made a Facebook status/Tumblr post that read as follows:

Since APPARENTLY this has become a huge contentious debate all over Facebook, let me make my position on it clear:

1. If we’re hanging out in person and you want to check your phone, go for it. If you need to take care of something on your phone, go for it. If you want to text someone, go for it. If you get a call and want to take it, go for it. Hell, feel free to take out a book and read it if that’s what you feel like doing. I can survive the temporary loss of your full attention and you don’t need to justify it to me every time you decide that there’s something more important in the world than me. :)

2. If we’re hanging out in person and you snark at me about using my phone, make me feel bad for occasionally needing a moment to withdraw, get annoyed that things come up in my life that I need to take care of immediately (either because they’re time-sensitive or because I know I’ll worry and be unable to enjoy my time with you anyway if I don’t take care of it), or otherwise act like you’re entitled to my complete and undivided attention at all times just because I agreed to make plans with you, you’re making it less and less likely that I’ll hang out with you again.

3. I know some people are fond of assuming that others need their assistance “disconnecting” from technology or setting their priorities straight, but that’s between me and my hypothetical therapist and is none of your business. And if it’s that offensive to you that I check my phone sometimes while out with people, then you take care of your OWN needs by choosing not to hang out with me rather than expecting ME to take care of your needs by changing my interaction style.

The point of this post wasn’t so much to convince anyone of anything as to let my friends know where I stand and to let them know that they are free to do these types of things (“tech-diddling,” as one called it) around me. It was also to warn people who find this unforgivably rude that I’m not the best person for them to make social plans with. That’s all.

Unsurprisingly, this got a lot of pushback, the nature of which was also unsurprising. So I’m going to expand on it a little.

First of all, a lot of people responded with something along the lines of, “Have you perhaps considered that some people find this rude?” Yes, I have perhaps considered that, or else I wouldn’t have written the post. The fact that some people find it rude is not an argument against my own choice to not find it rude, and my own choice to try to associate with people who feel similarly.

Responding to this post with “Have you perhaps considered that some people find this rude?” is equivalent to responding to a post called “Why I Think Justin Beiber’s Music Is Actually Great” with “Have you perhaps considered that some people don’t like Justin Beiber’s music?” If I found something so self-evident that I was literally unaware that a dissenting opinion even exists, there would be no need to state my own opinion publicly and justify it. Furthermore, the fact that it’s rude is the majority opinion, so it’s more than a little condescending when people assume I’m so clueless I don’t even know what the majority of people think about a topic that often comes up in conversation.

Second, I found that a lot of people were very quick with anecdotes about that one person who spent the entire dinner or party or coffee date on their phone without paying any attention to you. I can agree that this person is behaving rudely, though I’d be more curious what’s going on for them that’s making them do it than I would be interested in issuing a blanket condemnation of their behavior. But in any case, the vast majority of social-time technology use is nothing of that caliber. The posts and articles that prompted me to make that post to begin with were about trends like having party guests put their phones in a basket at the door so that they have no access to them the entire time, or having the first person to so much as glance at their phone have to pay for everyone’s dinner. What the hell? There’s a difference between glancing at one’s notifications or shooting off a quick text and spending the whole time “glued” to one’s phone like a teenager in a stupid cartoon about teenagers.

There’s also a difference between suddenly taking out your phone and engaging with it while your conversational partner is mid-sentence, versus waiting for them to finish and saying, “Excuse me, I need to check this right now,” and doing so. There’s yet another difference between frequently spending lots of time on your phone during social gatherings, versus telling your friends, “Just so you know, I’ll be checking a lot on my friend who’s going through a hard time,” or “Just so you know, I might be on my phone a lot because it helps me relax when I get stressed in social situations.” Kinda like I’m doing here. Communication! I love it.

Third, a bunch of people started distinguishing between acceptable reasons to check one’s phone and unacceptable reasons to check one’s phone. Family emergencies, work obligations: acceptable. Checking Facebook, sending a tweet: not acceptable. Here are some of my own reasons for checking my phone during social things:

  • I’m an introvert and get overwhelmed if I don’t have regular moments to withdraw into my own world.
  • If I’m bored, my mind quickly drifts to really unpleasant thoughts and my mood plummets, and checking my phone helps me avoid being bored.
  • Perhaps you said something really hurtful and offensive but I don’t want to derail the entire social gathering, so I retreat and calm down by distracting myself with my phone.
  • If something’s going on in my life that’s coming up on my phone and it’s very stressful, dealing with it immediately will help me be more present for you afterwards as opposed to worrying the entire time and ignoring everything that’s going on.
  • I don’t want to be overwhelmed by tons of notifications and emails when I get home hours from now.

I am in a better position than you to decide when I need to check my phone and when I do not.

Fourth, some people thought that “I’m going to check my phone while with people” means “I will sit there texting and Facebooking while you try to tell me about your breakup or your depression.” Again, things like this are very contextual. There have been plenty of times when someone said, “I really need to talk to you about something” and set up a time with me and sat on my bed or my couch and told me about it. You can bet that phone shit was on the other side of the room during that whole conversation. But when we’re getting lunch or hanging out in a big casual group of people, it’s a different situation. Anyone is welcome to ask me for what they want, including for me to not check my phone while they tell me about something, and I will almost always say yes.

Fifth, some people thought that checking your phone while out with people is inherently, automatically a sign that you don’t value them or find them boring or don’t want to show them that you care. As my friends and partners would hopefully attest, I show my love, care, and attention in many, many ways. I don’t think I need to list those ways here or justify myself to people, but if someone in my life wants to know how I feel about them or wants me to show them love, care, and attention in ways I haven’t been, they are always welcome to tell me that. I would also hope that they will believe me when I say, “Me checking my phone will I’m out with you doesn’t mean I don’t value our time together; it means ________.” That’s what I’m doing here. I’m saying that when I check my phone, it’s because I have my own needs that I need to take care of. It’s not you, it’s me.

Here’s what it really comes down to: people’s feelings of being neglected or ignored or treated rudely when a friend checks their phone are real and valid. I’m absolutely not here to say that those feelings are wrong. I am here to say two things: 1) it might be worth considering other possible ways to interpret someone’s phone-checking, and 2) even if you still think it’s rude and wrong, maybe you should hang out with people who feel the way you do, and I should hang out with people who feel the way I do.

Cuz the thing is, there are a lot of things I find rude that other people don’t seem to, such as being given unsolicited advice, having people try to psychoanalyze me, and being touched without my permission. I am welcome to make the case that these things are rude (as I often have), and others are welcome to tell me that they will continue doing so anyway, and then I am welcome to stop spending time with these people, and they are not welcome to try to guilt me into spending time with them anyway.

The wonderful thing about having so many great friends who understand the way I communicate is that I get to carve out a social space that operates by the rules we prefer. Some rules that other people have, we do not: for instance, the rule that checking your phone in front of people is wrong and that talking about one’s mental health problems is generally inappropriate and that sex is something to be kept private. Other rules we have are ones that other people don’t: for instance, that you should ask before giving someone a hug or otherwise touching them, and that you should communicate as clearly as possible rather than playing mind games or expecting people to guess your feelings.

Some people don’t want to play by these rules and they don’t like the fact that we don’t play by their rules. That’s okay.

What’s not okay is this presumption I encounter so frequently that checking your phone in front of people is inherently rude, rather than rude because some people (not all people) have coded it that way. And given that 89 people liked the original Facebook post (way more than most of my posts get), I’m clearly not some solitary weirdo on this issue. I say this not to brag about my Facebook following, but to emphasize the fact that many people agree with this view and want to socialize in this way.

Ultimately I’m not comfortable with blanket condemnations of behaviors that are not intrinsically hurtful to people. There are times when I think it would be wrong for me to check my phone, so I don’t. There are times when I think it’s okay for me to check my phone, so I do. The set of times when I think it’s okay is much greater than the set of times that many other people think it’s okay, and I disagree that that makes me automatically wrong. Maybe we just have different preferences and expectations for social interactions, and if those don’t correspond very well, we’re better off not hanging out together.

I would also like to increase the acceptability of the fact that most of us are not always fascinating and scintillating conversationalists. I’m sometimes bored around people I generally like a lot. People who generally like me a lot are probably sometimes bored by me. If I’m boring someone and they don’t want to tell me so or change the topic, I’d rather they do something to avoid being bored, because I don’t want my friends to feel bored. (And honestly, telling someone directly that they’re boring you is even less acceptable than checking your phone while you’re with them, so that’s not really an option most of the time.)

I think a lot of the furor around people who check their phones while socializing is stemming from the idea that if someone’s agreed to make plans with you, they owe you 100% of their attention at every moment of the time you spend together or else they’re not “respecting” you. That’s probably not even possible, and many people who do not check their phones simply let their minds wander anyway. But more to the point, I don’t think that agreeing to spend time with someone should imply that if your attention strays from them at any point, you’re not fulfilling your end of the bargain. I don’t want my social interactions to be so transactional. I don’t want to do things out of obligation.

Besides, I have spent many, many happy hours with friends and partners working on our laptops in silence and speaking briefly every once in a while, and I value that time as much as I value the times when we’re talking animatedly and nearly interrupting each other because we just have so much to say.

I don’t think there has to be only one acceptable way for healthy, mutually respectful social interaction to look, and I’d like to spend my time with those who agree.

Comments

    • says

      Not sure why you need to tell me that since I’m guessing you don’t know me in person (and if you did, I’d need to know who you are so that I don’t invite you to hang out). So, I think you’re just trying to be mean and snarky. Please don’t do that; there’s no point to it and I’m not even hurt by the idea of some random internet person not wanting to spend time with me. :)

      • Wylann says

        This is funny. My snarky comment had some double meaning: 1) You don’ know me, so we wouldn’t hang out anyway, and 2) I was taking your side and agreeing that if someone doesn’t like it, they could simply not hang out with you.

        Amusingly, you took it as mean and insulting. I can see why you might spend a lot of time on your phone….

        • says

          Your point is excellently punctuated by an actual insult, just in case I had any doubts about how nice of a person you are. Thanks!

          My original comment to you was calm and polite and said that I “think” you’re trying to be mean, leaving you plenty of room to correct the misinterpretation. You’ve decided to respond with rudeness. I don’t think I’m the one behaving revealingly here.

          ETA: unless your next comment is an apology for that, I’m banning you. I don’t have to put up with this in my own space.

          • Wylann says

            No worries. I don’t read your blog with enough regularity to care how thin skinned you are.

          • says

            You know, this “thin-skinned” girl has lived through ten years of depression, survived sexual assault, recovered from an eating disorder, been followed and groped and catcalled and propositioned by strange men, and read graphic rape and death threats in her inbox. None of which even makes me unique among women, sadly.

            The reason I expect and demand to be treated better than you are treating me isn’t because your inept, childish attempts at insults hurt. It’s because I respect myself too much to take this kind of shit.

            You? You aren’t even a pathetic little blip on my radar, sweetie. Go fuck yourself.

          • Schlumbumbi says

            You’ve assaulted your own argument.

            (1) […] The fact that some people find it rude is not an argument against my own choice to not find it rude
            (2) […] You’ve decided to respond with rudeness

            Since the very concept of “rudeness” is about the expected reception of your actions by others, it doesn’t make sense to claim that you can arbitrarily override peoples’ reservations without -actually- being rude at that exact moment. Had you been honest, you would’ve just said that you don’t care if you’re rude.

            Wylann has just recorded your argument and played it back to you. And I’m pretty sure he anticipated an oblivious reply like the one you gave. Some people just love conjuring up moments of unintentional comedy.

            There’s also a difference between suddenly taking out your phone and engaging with it while your conversational partner is mid-sentence, versus waiting for them to finish and saying, “Excuse me, I need to check this right now,” and doing so

            Color me unsurprised, if you’re actually the former type, rather than the latter. Sporadically checking your phone when you have a moment to spare, isn’t even worth mentioning, and never has been.
            The only source of dissension is some peoples’ permanent failure to omit such behaviour for even the shortest amount of time, whenever a specific moment demands undivided attention – you know, the type of folks who wouldn’t hesitate to take cigarette breaks during their own wedding ceremony.

            Leaving all that silly banter aside, it comes down to this:
            You want to do that ? That’s your prerogative. People will react to it as they see fit. That’s their prerogative. If you’re unhappy with the responses you get -> change your behaviour.

          • Schlumbumbi says

            Hm have to correct myself after reading other comments.
            Seems this is actually more of a “help” device for you than anything else.

    • HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

      I know, right?

      People who come up with inane blather about being psychoanalyzed when people call them out for being rude and ignoring their company are not worth the bother.

        • HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

          I’m ignoring the other responses, because, well. Anyway, after a lot of reflection, I apologize. That was mean as fuck, and pointlessly so.

          I have problems with people using their phones when we’re spending time together because of my own issues, because it does feel like being really publicly ignored in a deliberately humiliating way. So someone with issues where they need to retreat, we’d have to work something out. Competing needs. They’re a thing.

          The post felt a lot like a smug declaration of “my needs are more important than anyone else’s, and I am so enlightened with my self-invented rules”, at least it did if you’re someone who is really hurt by the device thing.

          I don’t agree with you on a lot of thing, but you do deserve disagreeement as a person with a differing opinion. Again, i apologize.

          • says

            Thanks for the apology, but I don’t understand what’s “smug” about saying, “These are my needs, and if they’re incompatible with yours, then we shouldn’t hang out.” They’re not “self-invented” rules. They’re not rules at all, they’re preferences that I easily found nearly 100 people on my Facebook who share them. But even if they were 100% my own ideas, there’s nothing “smug” about having unique needs and desires. That sounds a lot like the “special snowflake” stuff we hear every time we ask for trigger warnings or for people to stop making rape jokes.

            If I viewed my needs as “more important than anyone else’s,” then I would expect people to spend time with me despite the fact that I am unable to fulfill some of their needs. I would expect them to change their interaction style to suit me, and I would not have acknowledged, as I did in this post, that their feelings about the device thing are still real and valid. The fact that I do not expect any of these things form anyone is literally right in the title of this blog post, presumably the first thing you read of it.

            Again, thanks for conceding that your comment was inappropriate, but I hope you’ll reconsider your position that people with differing needs than you are just “smug.” That’s still incredibly dismissive. I don’t think I’m better than anyone. I don’t even think I’m that different from anyone, not that there’d be anything wrong with it if I were.

          • HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

            Oh no, I meant that it came off as smug to me BECAUSE I was already on the defensive because of my own shit. Not that it was actually so? Again, sorry.

      • Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

        People who come up with inane blather about being psychoanalyzed when people call them out for being rude and ignoring their company are not worth the bother.

        That wasn’t just rude, it was downright cruel. You’ve got a lot of nerve complaining about people being rude if this is how you act.

      • says

        I’m sorry, I really have to say this…

        Fuck you, HappiestSadist. I don’t know who the fuck you think you are, but I can tell you from this one post (I’m ignoring most of the other posts I’ve seen of you, because… well…) that you are one hypocritical asshole.

        To cry about someone being rude while being downright cruel and vindictive yourself… why you continue to post here I don’t know, but maybe you could just go away?

    • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

      Well, *I* won’t hang out with, not because you check your phone but because of something even more reprehensible: YOU LIVE ~3500 MILES AWAY!

      Obviously, someone who’s comfortable with a different geographical location than me isn’t any more worth the bother than someone who’s comfortable with different group standards about device use than others!

  1. angharad says

    I’m totally with you on this one. For all of the reasons you note and also this: I have small children. Sometimes the people who are caring for those children will need to contact me urgently.

  2. Jacob Schmidt says

    I would also like to increase the acceptability of the fact that most of us are not always fascinating and scintillating conversationalists.

    I don’t know why,* but’s it’s rare for me to feel like a conversation is moving quick enough. Most people I’m with simply take too long to convey their message. Usually I understand their meaning well before they have any intention on finishing.** So I get bored. And, when I’m bored, I do stuff. Either I’ll doodle, or look at my phone, or whatever. It’s not that I’m not listening to you; I am. Paying attention to you is my priority when I’m conversing with you (usually). What I’m doing on the side is me putting the extra brainpower I have available to do something else.

    * I mean, I suspect it’s a combination of an ingrained preference to speaking quickly and the fact that my speech impediment makes it significantly more convenient to be concise.

    ** This actually leads me to upset people sometimes. When I get frustrated and no longer want to be having a conversation but, for whatever reason, feel obligated (rightly or wrongly) to continue, I tend to interrupt before they’re quite finished speaking. I try to engage people on their terms and let them speak as they feel the should, but sometimes I fail.

  3. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    I’m an introvert and get overwhelmed if I don’t have regular moments to withdraw into my own world.

    So much this! If I’m out with a group of friends, it means I had to pretty much kick my own ass to get me out the door. So my baseline for the evening is “just about freaking the fuck out”. My phone barely makes noise, almost no calls, very few texts, but you can bet I’ll be pulling it out pretty often and pretending to text so I can have an excuse to pull away and relax for a sec. If you take my phone away, I’m pretty much left with hiding in the bathroom.

  4. Cuttlefish says

    My policy on being offended or not was formed while teaching classes on September 11, 2001. I told my students to make sure their cell phones were *on*, and that if their concerned families or friends were calling them, to go ahead and answer (and leave the classroom discreetly), because there are a lot of things more important than my having someone’s full attention.

    It’s a relatively small step from that to realizing that, on any given day, any given person might have their own reasons that are more important, and that the only one who could say how important is “more”… is them.

  5. says

    In groups, sometimes I see people withdrawing and focusing on their phones, and my instinct is that they feel like they’re being ignored. Because that’s the motivation I would have if I did that. But I know there are other possible motivations, so I don’t know if they want to be engaged or left alone. Those are the thoughts that run through my mind, not how “rude” they’re being.

    • says

      That’s a good point. One situation in which I’m very likely to go on my phone is when people are talking about inside jokes or people I don’t know, and there’s no way for me to be like “Sorry but could you talk about something I can actually discuss too?”

      They take care of their business, I take care of mine.

  6. Genevieve says

    I agree with all your points but would like to challenge you on the following:

    “If I’m bored, my mind quickly drifts to really unpleasant thoughts and my mood plummets, and checking my phone helps me avoid being bored.”

    Not to invalidate all your other points, but I feel this is pretty telling (not necessarily in the context of this debate but in general). If being bored makes you that dejected, there may indeed be something else going on. The culture of immediate gratification is not always a blessing.

    • says

      Yeah, the something else going on is depression. When I have nothing to occupy myself with, my brain goes to “your life is totally worthless” and “you will be miserable and alone forever.” While I have strategies for coping with this, 1) it’s a mental illness, so they’re not perfect, and 2) those strategies are getting my mind off of it rather than sitting there wallowing in it.

      Another telling thing is that you read that sentence and thought “culture of immediate gratification” rather than, some people have serious psychological issues that they need to take care of.

      • Genevieve says

        I agree, and thought that might be the case. All I am saying is that something else might be a target for this particular problem, rather than railing against those who would prefer you be engaged with them. Again, not saying that this is necessarily invalidating your argument.

  7. Glenn Charles says

    I just hate cell phones, mine as well. I strongly dislike people for a certain lack that you don’t have. [What is it? you did mention it tangentially in the article. I do, as a hint, try to refrain from calling most people stupid.]

    And as for disengagement, I generally don’t respond to others because the reason for their approach is quite apparent and I don’t want them for friends…which is why my adopted parents wouldn’t let me go to college at thirteen. I needed to socially adjust to my peers. They forgot that I didn’t consider them my peers.

    Personal opinion: occasionally you have to hide from idiots. The idiots can’t realize it.

    That’s the way it goes. And yes, this would be inflammatory except for one simple thing; for the first time in forty years I’ve told the actual truth about that one thing. BTW I’m one of the lucky males to have been…raped. Your assumption are quite unlikely to apply to me.

  8. freemage says

    (Pre-note: Obviously, Miri, you and I are not associates, and therefore, do not spend time together. Any use of second-person and group pronouns should be considered to be either generic or speculative, and not an expectation that we’re going to be in personal contact anytime soon.)

    I do consider checking a cell phone during a get-together, without sufficient reason, to be rude. That’s why I don’t do it (or at least, try not to–I’m mortal, and sometimes fail to meet my own standards, like everyone else). There are only two things I consider ruder than this, in fact:

    1: Me assuming that your reasons are not “sufficient”;
    2: Me demanding to know what your reasons for checking your phone are.

    Both of these are far more presumptuous, self-centered, and yes, rude, than any casual phone-check on your part could be. Ergo, by all means, check away.

    At most, if it seems to be frequent enough to be disruptive to our time together, I may feel compelled to point out that something’s come up, and thus ask if it would be better to re-schedule, or if you’d like me to stick around anyway (in which case, I may find something to occupy myself with while you deal with your business–solitaire’s good for that). After all, if something’s come up suddenly, you may be focused on that and feel uncomfortable cancelling, or you may want someone else nearby for emotional support if it’s something stressful. Either, way, as a friend, my role is to do my best to accommodate your needs. See, folks? It’s really simple.

    (This notion of reciprocal manners–and in particular, that it is often ruder to complain about a minor breach in etiquette than it is to commit one–is something a LOT of people forget. More people should read Judith Martin.)

  9. says

    I rarely go out for social occasions, unless its with my band and we’re hanging out at the venue watching other bands or waiting for our turn to perform. Usually when there is a lull in the conversation and someone pulls out a phone, there seems to be an unspoken signal and the rest of us have some “phone time” also for a few minutes. Then we all go back into our talking or eating or drinking. If there is really loud music playing, it’s really the only way we can converse, using the SMS features on our phones.

    Pathetic, ain’t it?

    It’s just sort of an unspoken agreement that occasionally we need to look at our phones for messages. No big deal.

    (I won’t even go into my wife and me IMing each other across the room because it’s easier to do that than interrupt our Facebooking or email or whatever)

  10. Glenn Charles says

    BTW I wouldn’t have bothered engaging in a conversation for this long if I didn’t respect you by my values. Sex is a “last” in my book simply because I had a three year guiltless period of being able to relate to women sexually (to our mutual pleasure) in a part of the world where attitudes have no relationships to those of the United States, although I shouldn’t indicate the present–I’m sure that was before you were born. Past tense, unfortunately (and I don’t use “proper English” except in the proper venue–neither poetry nor this is the proper venue). You are rational according to my lights (although I am absolutely sure my criteria would at least surprise you). You haven’t once said you didn’t understand what I’m saying. And best of all you haven’t confused an intellectual friendship with a physical one. You’ve even helped me passage some hard events that I haven’t mentioned–again, improper venue (we all have multiple personalities or we can’t even get jobs–and that is precisely what has formed the conceptualization of “venue”). When I said you’d accused me of something (by saying “all males”) I pointed out what you were doing. Mind you, I just avoid people. Oscar Wilde would have approved of me, even though it’s not true “I’m not prejudiced, I hate everyone.” [*That is his statement, not one from a television show fifty years later.]

  11. says

    Checking out…

    In social situations, unless the people I’m with are engaging in conversations I very much enjoy and want to participate in, even (especially!) when I’m ignorant and very interested in learning (I fucking love conversations about theoretical physics and quantum mechanics, even though I know I can’t understand a single bit of it no matter how many questions I ask), I literally start to panic: “holy fuck I can’t engage! I don’t know what they’re talking about! I know I should be interested but I’m not! Everyone probably thinks I’m a big creep just standing here silently! WHAT DO I DO?!?!?!?”

    GALAXY S4 TO THE RESCUE!

    So yeah… I know how you feel. My cell phone is my protective space. When I start to freak out in a social situation, it’s not my eyes or my mannerisms or my sudden jumpiness that’ll give me away. It’s the fact that I’m now on my phone. And the right response to that is just to continue your conversation and I promise to join back in when I’m good and ready. Sometimes it may mean I’m on my phone for a while… other times it might mean I’m only on my phone for a moment. It all depends on how I feel, what the conversation is about, whether or not I’m interested in it, and whether or not I have another, less-rude means of escape.

    I very nearly went to one party where they made you give up your cell phones at the door. I turned around and left. When my friend chased me to my car and asked me why, I said “you know how I am in social situations. I only said I would come because you said I would know some people here and I promised you. You know I need a means to escape. In these situations, that’s my cell phone.” My friend told me to wait and asked the host if they’d reconsider for me… even explained my situation to them (with my permission). They said they would not. No cell phone, or no party.

    So both my friend and I left, because fuck that shit (though I’m grateful that he understood and even left in solidarity with me).

    On another note… over on the Facebook post, people were discussing these “Silent Parties” or something like that, where technology is the point (cell phones, computers, laptops, etc)… I would very, very much like to be at one of those parties. They sound kind of fucking awesome.

    And on a completely and utterly unrelated note… what are the chances of Cards Against Humanity at WiS3 this year? I’ve already registered for the conference, just have to afford the hotel and flight… hoping my tax return gives me enough money to pay off FAU. I have my own CAH set, BTW, including the Bigger Blacker Box and all of the expansion packs, so I can bring it if you don’t plan on bringing yours, though I don’t have any of my own creations because, unfortunately, I’m just not witty/funny enough to create my own good ones… :(

    I am very sad to say that I missed the Holiday Bullshit, however. You got in on that, right? I’m mad myself for missing that. I intend on getting it next year, though.

    And finally… can I share your post on my Facebook wall, with a similar version of my comments? I do have friends and family who I feel need to read it…

    • says

      My friend told me to wait and asked the host if they’d reconsider for me… even explained my situation to them (with my permission). They said they would not. No cell phone, or no party.

      That must be infuriating.

      On another note… over on the Facebook post, people were discussing these “Silent Parties” or something like that, where technology is the point (cell phones, computers, laptops, etc)… I would very, very much like to be at one of those parties. They sound kind of fucking awesome.

      I would love those! Although I’d also feel stifled by the inability to talk to people verbally. I like some of each.

      And on a completely and utterly unrelated note… what are the chances of Cards Against Humanity at WiS3 this year?

      I always bring CAH to conferences, but I don’t always end up playing because sometimes there are more interesting things to do. In the future, Facebook is a better place for these types of inquiries; no need to make people reading these comments wade through us making social plans that do not include them (probably). :)

      And finally… can I share your post on my Facebook wall, with a similar version of my comments? I do have friends and family who I feel need to read it…

      Blog posts are public and meant to be shared; you don’t need to ask permission for this. Thanks!

      • says

        That must be infuriating.

        I haven’t been to a party they’ve hosted since.

        I would love those! Although I’d also feel stifled by the inability to talk to people verbally. I like some of each.

        Oh yeah definitely. Interaction would need to occur. I just like the idea that the party centers around the technology (while verbal interaction can be present).

        I always bring CAH to conferences, but I don’t always end up playing because sometimes there are more interesting things to do. In the future, Facebook is a better place for these types of inquiries; no need to make people reading these comments wade through us making social plans that do not include them (probably). :)

        Good point. I was just on a roll and kind of tired… I’ll keep that stuff to Facebook from now on…

        Blog posts are public and meant to be shared; you don’t need to ask permission for this. Thanks!

        Awesome. Thank you!

  12. says

    Yes, context matters. Simply checking your phone often is usually not rude to me. Spending 99% of a social visit on your phone and ignoring everyone so you can play candy crush or check facebook (ie: no emergency) is. It’s the ignoring everyone part that’s rude. Nothing special about the phone. It’d be just as rude if you pulled out a Daniel Steel novel at dinner.

  13. Hunt says

    Before the advent of smart phones, the social faux pas was checking your watch. since that indicated that you were bored and either wondering when it would end or what else you might be doing. I don’t think you can avoid the implication, particularly if you’re engaged in a one-on-one meeting or something more intimate, like a date, that diverting yourself with a piece of electronics (or a watch) signals some kind of perception of deficiency with your partner or date. Whether this is actually true or not is to a large extent beside the point, since social etiquette is mostly based on generality. If a person is completely engaged and attentive to another person, they won’t be checking a phone or a watch. Just as a thought experiment, suppose you were having lunch with President Obama. You would never in a million years check your phone out of consideration of his status as VIP. That being said, most people are not President Obama, and the inter-social details about signals sent and received vary widely according to who you’re with and what the occasion happens to be. If you’re out with a group of friends and it’s just common opinion that you’re all going to be connected for the duration of the event, then connect away. If you’re (and I mean “you” in general) in an intimate setting and preface your diversion with something like “sorry, but I just have to do this…” you’re probably still on firm ground. If you just whip out a phone and dissociate from reality, leaving a partner hanging without prior agreement or social stipulation (of the type you make in this post), wondering what he or she just did, then you’re on pretty shaky ground.

    About the social stipulation idea. This works for people who have a broad-based social network. It works less and less for people who are in more sparse social arrangements. If one sets up more and more stringent conditions for those whom they with to interact, they will often eventually find themselves sitting alone in a room. For instance, I live in a sub-culture (I live in Hawaii), where if I stipulated no impromptu hugging, I would probably eventually be ostracized from many social occasions, particularly if I made a public point of it. Personally, I find it disagreeable, though not offensive or threatening. What do I do? Well, I bear it and make concessions, like a lot of people do under a lot of different social conditions and settings. In other words, social stipulations work until they don’t, then you either change, or you live in a sparser social environment.

    • says

      I don’t think you can avoid the implication, particularly if you’re engaged in a one-on-one meeting or something more intimate, like a date, that diverting yourself with a piece of electronics (or a watch) signals some kind of perception of deficiency with your partner or date.

      Well, the 89 friends of mine who liked my Facebook status (and who included basically all of my close friends and most of my partners) clearly manage to avoid that implication. If I felt that someone I’m with is likely to feel hurt if I check my phone, I probably won’t do it, but I probably also won’t feel comfortable enough around that person to hang out with them again. That’s all. I like to feel free to take care of my needs when I’m with people.

      • Hunt says

        Fair enough. If you’ve found a group of like-minded associates and it all works for you, more power to you. I don’t find it surprising to know that many people don’t seem to have a problem with this. Since it’s a bone of contention, significant number of people must occupy each side of the opinion.

        It might be interesting to know whether this is an age-dependent issue. I won’t go so far as to say “inter-generational,” but it may well be that teens and twenty-somethings have now adopted a certain social etiquette that is new on the scene, having arrived with the advent of smart phones, and older people are just “not getting it.” I don’t know. Do you happen to know anything about the age distribution of people who have given you pushback on it?

        • says

          I don’t have accurate data because I haven’t bothered to collect it, but anecdotally, some of the people who are most pissed off with me about this are my age, and many of the people who accept this and feel the same way about their own phone use are much older.

          My parents have never, ever given me a hard time for checking my phone while I’m with them, but I also don’t do it very often. Because here’s the wonderful thing: when people make me feel comfortable and at ease around them, I have less of a need to frequently withdraw and relax by using my phone.

          • badgersdaughter says

            I’m in my mid-40s, and I agree with you. Plainly if you feel the need to use your phone while we’re hanging out, you need to use your phone. Who the hell am I to say that your Facebook isn’t important? I have friends I only KNOW through Facebook. I have family I only talk to through Facebook (the six hour time difference has a lot to do with it). If you need to use your phone, you need to. Simple kindness gives you credit for making reasonable choices. I can live with it and find something else to occupy myself with (though, like you, it is as often as not to be unhealthy rumination… I’m working on it). :)

    • Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy says

      It sounds like you’re assuming that Miri is in a too-sparse social environment, in the context of her saying that she has a social group for which her approach works. From there, you are also assuming that changing is always possible, and always preferable to a sparse social environment.

      I don’t know whether I would fit well into Miri’s group; but if I didn’t, that would be a neutral or possibly slightly unfortunate fact. It wouldn’t mean there was something wrong with either of us. Given the prevailing social norms, it makes sense for Miri to state her position on this, as she has done; what more do you want? If you can’t find a congenial group, you may have to choose between a less-congenial group and being alone. But if you have found a congenial group–as Miri has–it doesn’t make sense to walk away from it because, somewhere else at some other time, there might not be as many congenial people. You might as well start spontaneously hugging anyone in your community who doesn’t rush up to put their arms around you, rather than being glad not to have to tolerate something that, perhaps, the other person doesn’t like either.

      • Hunt says

        I was trying to make a general observation, not personalize it to Miri. For one thing, I get the impression she doesn’t like it when people do that.

        Basically what I’m contending is that this follows something like a law of supply and demand. When you occupy an environment where you can pick and choose from whom you associate and still maintain a coterie of people adequate for your social needs, then go for it. It’s amazing how you might become a little more forgiving or even indulgent toward the peeves of others when the selection begins to drop. It’s a mathematical fact, the more terms and conditions you apply to the group with whom you agree to associate the lower the number of people it will contain. You can paint yourself into a corner. I know, I’ve seen people do it.

        But beyond this, let’s say you meet someone who just happens to get pissed when you whip out your phone. The question is, is this really such a massive character flaw that you’re willing to cut them off solely on the basis of it? How many interesting and valuable associates are you potentially losing just because you’re unwilling to make a social concession?

        • Onamission5 says

          It’s not necessarily a matter of being unwilling to make that concession, it’s often a matter of being unable.

          I don’t know if you understand how social anxiety works for a lot of people (and I envy you if you don’t), but for me, before smart phones, I’d often find myself looking for an opportunity to escape when a situation became too overwhelming. I was known as the disappearing friend because I’d just panic and leave. Being able to check (or pretend to check) my phone is an action which keeps me grounded. It allows me to do things that more gregarious, less anxious people might take for granted, like staying at a kid’s birthday party where all the other parents have known each other for years and I’m the odd person out, rather than bolting out the door as if my ass was on fire. It allows me to attend small group events without having to spend the entire occasion outside, alone, on a two hour “smoke break,” while my hands shake and my brain tells me what a horrible human being I am. Anxiety wells, out comes phone, anxiety quelled. It is not something I need to do often, but when I need it, oh boy do I. Someone who gets pissed at me for needing to briefly use my phone and demands that I sit there stewing instead or that I focus on their wants when my needs are screaming at me is someone who is getting pissed at me for using a tool to cope with my social anxiety. Yes, I am afraid that that’s a friendship deal breaker.

        • says

          But beyond this, let’s say you meet someone who just happens to get pissed when you whip out your phone. The question is, is this really such a massive character flaw that you’re willing to cut them off solely on the basis of it? How many interesting and valuable associates are you potentially losing just because you’re unwilling to make a social concession?

          It’s not quite as dire for me as it is for Onamission5, but I don’t view it as “getting pissed when I whip out my phone,” I view it as getting pissed when I do a small thing that really helps me take care of myself and be happy and social. People behave in ways that seem rude all the time and we don’t necessarily rebuke or get pissed at them for it; we note the rudeness and try to assume the best, wondering if perhaps there’s a good reason for it. For instance, as I said, I find it rude when someone continually offers me unsolicited advice, and if they do it very often or in a very condescending way I might call them on it, but if not, I just accept that it’s uncomfortable for me, try to assume that they’re only trying to help, and move along. If someone finds it very, very important to offer unsolicited advice to their friends and I get pissed at them for it, well, then it makes sense for them to not want to be friends with me.

          In any case, I don’t know why this is really a question. I said that it’s important to me to feel free and comfortable around my friends. Feeling prohibited from quickly checking an email makes it feel less like hanging out with a friend and more like a goddamn job interview. There are plenty of those in my future; there’s no need to have my social time feel that way, too. So of course I won’t want to hang out with people who make me feel that way. I never said it’s a “massive character flaw” and I never said I’d “cut them off,” so please don’t strawman or exaggerate. I said that I will likely not be comfortable hanging out with them in person.

  14. Dunc says

    I’m curious – do the people who object to this sort of thing also think it’s rude to talk to other people, or is it just communication mediated by electronics they have a problem with?

    As you say, context is everything.

    • smrnda says

      Someone told me that they think electronics gets a bad rap simply because it’s newer. It’s kind of how if you’re out with someone, and they happen to talk to someone they recognize it’s okay, but if they answer their phone, it’s somehow suddenly rude.

      The only behavior I ever thought was rude with a phone was I was in a subway, and someone took a call and told their friend they were at subway. They then turned up the volume on their phone and held out their phone while the person on the phone said what they wanted on their sandwich.

      I only actually found it rude because the phone was not loud enough and had poor sound quality when it was used as a speaker, which made it very hard for the worker to understand the order or prepare the sandwich, and the problem with the worker being unable to tell the person on the phone “hey, I didn’t catch that” easily.

      • smrnda says

        In case that post didn’t make sense, I meant subway the restaurant, not where you get trains.

  15. voidhawk says

    If I’m alone with someone, I feel really socially awkward if they’re clearly more interested in their phone than me. not because I think it’s rude but because I start panicking that I’m not being engaging enough, that I’ve done something to offend them or that they’re deliberately isolating me. This is especially so if I’ve made a real effort to talk to someone.

    The social anxiety can work both ways.

    • says

      *nod* An important and valid point.

      I think this relates to the matter of degree that I was discussing. If someone is “clearly more interested in their phone” than in the person they’re hanging out with, then the right thing to do is to explain why to the person they’re hanging out with and offer a preemptive apology, i.e. “Sorry, I might be on my phone a lot this evening because things are exploding at work.” In most cases, people are not clearly more interested in their phones than in the people they’re with; they just check them briefly and occasionally, and hopefully that wouldn’t make you anxious.

    • Xtina Schelin says

      Oh yeah, definitely the same here. If I’m with a group of folk, that’s one thing, but if I’m in the middle of a conversation with someone, and they wander off to do something else or they pull out their phone and spend a few minutes on it with no warning, my first reaction is less “how rude!” and more “I must not be interesting?”. (Hilariously, I also have social anxiety and am an introvert, so me sitting down to talk with someone is me making time for them.)

  16. Marcel Marino says

    When you were on Wes’s facebook page, I thought you vehemently disagreed with me. I had no idea your position was pretty much identical to mine. Glad to hear it. :-)

  17. kaboobie says

    My opinion on this has definitely changed over time. I don’t think my husband would be able to survive a visit with my family, or me his, without access to our phones. Neither one hates the other’s family — far from it — but a lot of the conversation can be inside-jokey, or centered around pets/kids, and leaves one or the other of us out. Some topics send both of us to our phones, regardless of whose family we’re with.

    Like voidhawk @16, though, I would probably feel anxious in a one-on-one situation when the other person is on the phone instead of engaging with me.

  18. says

    Thank you so much for writing about this. <3

    I have ADHD and Crohn's and sometimes spending a second looking at my phone actually helps me concentrate on the other person better or lets me hide a spasm of pain.

    With the ADHD, I sometimes end up hyperfocusing on what someone says and so end up ignoring what they are saying. Small distractions like glancing at my phone or doodling something, etc. actually helps me engage more with what the person in front of me is saying since it keeps me from focusing on the wrong thing. It is a weird quirk of the way my brain works. Unfortunately because of social expectations, I don't feel comfortable doing that all the time and so instead I end up focusing on how I want to pay attention but I can't and it ends up being this positive feedback loop of inattention.

    The other aspect of things is that when I have a flare or whatnot, I don't always want it to be obvious to people when I am in pain. Looking at my phone gives me just enough of a distraction to help me ignore the pain enough not to have it show on my face. I don't like the vulnerability that comes with making my pain obvious to the world to see.

    I understand the idea of being self-conscious when other people look at their phones when you are spending time with them, but I find the people who do it because of anxiety or what not are still engaging with me and making it obvious that they are paying attention.

    I find that a lot of social etiquette is based on really ableist ideas of what is proper or normal behaviour. Not everyone can comfortably make eye contact, not everyone can engage 100% with someone without being overwhelmed. Inclusiveness means understanding that different people have different coping mechanisms and working together to make more people comfortable.

    You rock Miri. Thanks for making it easier for those of us with anxiety, depression, and other physical and mental disabilities to be open about our self-care needs.

  19. smrnda says

    I must have similar friends to you Miri, as I think we all do this to some extent, and so far, I know of nobody who takes offense except when it’s at a time when greater focus/attention is expected. I’m actually kind of surprised to find that there are people who think it’s rude all the time, no matter what.

    On social etiquette, I think self-selection in terms of friends solves the challenge of differing opinions, the way it solves conflicts over almost anything else.

    Just a story from my own life: as a person who works as a programmer, I’ve spent lots of time sitting around people I knew while in front of a computer. I’ve gone out to cafes and bars with people and we all sat in front of computers the whole time. My partner, however, can’t stand me being in front of her when I have the computer out. I think she’s kind of behind the times, but I also realized that I don’t think she can change, so I changed my behavior. Overall, we match up in most other ways, so I didn’t feel it was a big deal.

  20. says

    I wholeheartedly agree. With everything. Honestly, I didn’t even know checking your phone with someone was rude. Unless it’s like your therapist. Obviously discretion should be used. But I think discretion should always be used. For any circumstance.

  21. mikehager says

    It is ironic that you say “I am going to do this thing whether you like it or not, so if you don’t, don’t associate with me” and then you say that someone is mean and snarky for saying, “OK, I would choose not to associate with you.” Why is that?

    • says

      Because I don’t even know that person, so it’s not like their lack of desire to hang out with me has any relevance to my life. It’s like when a random person I’m not trying to date tells me that they don’t find me attractive and therefore wouldn’t want to date me. If I don’t know you and I didn’t ask to spend time with you, the only reason to go through the trouble of leaving a comment like that is to try to get to me. Which failed, by the way.

      Anyway, I answered your question, but I’m super not interested into getting into yet another meta-discussion about this.

      • mikehager says

        Be careful defining other people’s motivations. You actually have virtually no information in regards to my motivations yet you happily make declerations about them. Needless to say, you were incorrect. I was not trying to “get” you. On a blog where you proudly proclaim “great snark” you criticize what you percive as that exact quality in a commentator. You post on a blog about why someone shouldn’t assicate with you and then get extremely defensive when someone agrees with you. I wondered why that was.

        I asked a question. Sorry if you didn’t like that. Given your response, I must assume that you simply don’t know what rudeness is or when you are engaging in it.

        • says

          Sorry, I think you may have misinterpreted this:

          If I don’t know you and I didn’t ask to spend time with you, the only reason to go through the trouble of leaving a comment like that is to try to get to me. Which failed, by the way.

          I wasn’t referring to you specifically; that was “you” in the general sense. And I have no problem with the question you asked; I was just telling you that I’m not interested in having another discussion about this, so that you know not to keep trying to have a discussion that I don’t want to have. Please respect this request.

          • mikehager says

            Please rest assured I will never comment again as i will not be reading your blog again. The use of the word “reason” in the title is deceptive.

          • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

            Heh. Reminds me of the drive-by whining Daylight Atheism used to get before the move to Patheos. “HEY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING CHALLENGING MY PRECONCEPTIONS AND MAKING ME UNCOMFORTABLE?! THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE ‘BIG THINK’!”

  22. wscott says

    I think a lot of the furor around people who check their phones while socializing is stemming from the idea that if someone’s agreed to make plans with you, they owe you 100% of their attention at every moment of the time you spend together or else they’re not “respecting” you. That’s probably not even possible, and many people who do not check their phones simply let their minds wander anyway.

    Thank you! I once glanced at my phone to check the time (I don’t wear a watch), and was called rude for it…by someone who had spent the last hour paying more attention to the game on the TV across the restaurant than to me. (He did apologize when I called him on it, tho.)
    .
    Most of my friends know that I simply don’t get to ignore my phone, for both personal and professional reasons. Anyone who can’t handle that presumably stopped hanging out with me years ago. Sorry.

  23. Mriganka Bhattacharyya says

    I agree with you. I am an introvert as well. I have many good friends online. Some have become my pen-pals.

  24. Dennis Newman says

    Insecure people are overly sensitive and paranoid about what others think or say about them, notoriously so, and then they’re afraid to confront the other and choose instead to have their feelings hurt. (Yes, hurt feelings are a choice.) “Wouldn’t it be simpler to say something like, “Excuse me for a moment please. This call is important.” or just let the phone go to message?

  25. Kate Donovan says

    oh, hey, you said hurt feelings are a choice.

    Which leaves me with a bunch of questions:

    Do you have an upper bound on hurt feelings being a choice? Like, it’s stupid to ‘choose’ to have hurt feelings when someone tells you you’re ugly, but it’s smart to choose to have hurt feelings when someone you love dies? Since hurt feelings suck, wouldn’t you want people to opt out of feeling hurt at all costs? Does this sound like psychopathy? It totally sounds like psychopathy.

    If hurt feelings are a choice, wouldn’t it be simpler for the person Miri is with to decide not to be hurt?

    If hurt feelings are a choice….are you aware that much of the entire field of psychology disagrees with you and thinks this is outdated and unhelpful way of looking at how to manage emotions?

    • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

      If hurt feelings are a choice….are you aware that much of the entire field of psychology disagrees with you and thinks this is outdated and unhelpful way of looking at how to manage emotions?

      Any specific references? Several people I know haven’t gotten that message.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I got into an argument on Facebook the other day about whether it’s rude to be using your smartphone while you’re out with someone socially. My policy is that social interactions should be entirely consensual, so if Person A longer wants to engage with Person B, they should stop engaging and do what they want (my friend Miri has a similar view). […]