New York Etiquette Guide

Unbreakable Rules of Cell Phone Etiquette

Posted on Fri, Aug 26, 2011


Cell phone image










by Jeremy Willinger

For all of the many features, apps, and assistance cell phones provide, it is still up people to wield them with proper cell phone etiquette. Despite their ubiquity and integration into our daily lives, there are still many of us who display poor cell phone etiquette in daily interactions and situations.

Despite consistent reminders, a phone should never be audible to those around you—this includes chimes, ringtones, alarms, speaker phone conversations, or sound effects. We all like Angry Birds but no one should be forced to hear the repeated squaaaaaaaaaawk on the subway. Improper cell phone etiquette sonically holds any surrounding audience hostage (and makes you the subject of glares and bad thoughts). Proper cell phone etiquette proves that if a phone is muted, so too is the negative response from neighbors.

While cell phones can be an auditory distraction, they also possess the ability to visually disturb those around you.  In public, we must remember that holding up a phone to take a picture or record a video means someone’s view is temporarily obstructed. Similarly, taking out a phone to read or send a text during a movie, performance, or even a school play provides a distracting moment to all in the vicinity and deprives them of an experience they have already invested in. 

Many times when we arrive at a destination, the average sequence of events is to take a seat and place your cell phone on the nearest surface. This is common at work, though if you are in a meeting with a superior your cell phone should remain out of view. If you are the boss, it is good business etiquette to add a disclaimer to the meeting along the lines of “I have to be on the lookout for an email,” or “I am expecting a call, so pardon the intrusion of my cell phone on the desk.” An explanation, while not completely excusing the interruptive factor, at least mitigates the lapse in etiquette. 

At dinner, however, a cell phone should remain unseen. If you are expecting an important call, the proper etiquette is to apologize in advance to your dining companions, and if the call comes in, apologize again before taking the call and exiting from the table. A table facilitates what a phone takes away: face time.

Cell phone etiquette also extends to the digital content we consume. There is no good reason to view age-restricted material in view of others, period. If children are present, etiquette also demands that an advisement be made either directly or through a representative, using discretion. Engaging diplomacy, one may say something like, “I think there is a better time for that.” Much of proper cell phone etiquette extends to lessening its impact on others, and racy material has to be relegated in public.

Most people are now hard-pressed to remember life without a cell phone. Yet, one would imagine people would have gotten the message (via text, email, or otherwise) that cell phones have as much of an ability to hinder relationships and harms one’s social standing as they have the power to connect us to one another.

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