4 smartphone etiquette reminders for the new world: Opinion

I'm over 50 years old and that means I've been alive long enough to remember the time before smartphones, writes Dave Stewart.

Don't drive, don't walk and talk and please don't take out the phone in a movie theatre

Perhaps strutting around shouting into the phone is a bad idea. (Getty Images)

I'm over 50 years old and that means I've been alive long enough to remember the time before smartphones while experiencing the change that took place after they came vibrating into our lives.

It seems strange to me that there are fully realized adults out there holding down jobs, driving cars and otherwise making important decisions who don't remember a time when we weren't constantly connected.

Stranger to me still, it seems that no real etiquette has been established for smartphone use after all this time, and this, I think, is a problem.​

It's important to know that I come to this from a pro-smartphone perspective.

After all, where does being anti-technology get us?​

No phone while driving, a point worth repeating

The first rule of smartphone etiquette is obvious and yet too many of us ignore it on a regular basis: absolutely no smartphone use while driving.

This is for the very simple reason that you could kill someone!

If that fact alone doesn't do it for you, there are three other ways around this.

Rather than talk and drive, pull over, turn on your signal light and have your conversation on the shoulder of the road. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

You could either shut your cell phone off while driving to avoid temptation, go hands-free, or even pull over, well out of traffic, any time you engage with your phone.

Slightly less dangerous, if not equally annoying, is walking while on your smartphone.

Let's face it, most of us have a hard enough time sharing the sidewalk without being on our phones.

Add this distraction to the mix, and you've got the equivalent of running the gauntlet. Clearly, we're not going to stop walking-and-blocking, but let's all at least try to be a little more aware of the potential irritant we present in this scenario.

Walking and talking is totally unnecessary

Next, a real pet peeve of mine.

Why, in public, do some people put the caller on speaker phone and shout a conversation back and forth while holding their smartphone in front of them like it's some sort of retro Star Trek Communicator?

Put the phone back in your pocket when you're walking. (CBC News)

More often than not, they do this while walking. It's not only intrusive and obnoxious, but you also look like somebody who thinks it's impressive that you own a smartphone.

Not so much, Romy.

Keep this behaviour at home, and while in public, just keep the person you're talking to off-speaker and the phone to your ear. There's a good chap.

Be quiet, for crying out loud

That leads us to my next point: volume. There's no need to insinuate your conversation into someone else's day.

Be aware of how loudly you're speaking, and if your call requires some extra lung power, take it somewhere more private than, say, a restaurant or the bus.

The movie theatre was the first place I encountered rude cellphone use.

$15 later, I'm sitting in a packed auditorium when I'm completely distracted time and again by a jiggling white light from some text-happy movie-goer way down in the third row.

That bright light in the theatre is more distracting than you could ever imagine. (Diego Ciervo/iStock/Getty Images)

No, I'm here to see the movie, not an amateur light show.

Unless you're an EMT, your phone doesn't have to be on at all in a theatre.

Even then, set it to vibrate and step out to answer it. Once the movie starts there's absolutely no need for cell phones to make an appearance. Can't go two hours without checking in? Stay home.

And of course, you'd never use your phone at a live theatre performance, right? RIGHT?

Put down the phone at work

Finally, we enter more murky territory: smartphones at work.

What the post-smartphone generation has to know is that prior to their appearance, the kind of extracurricular connection that cellphones provide was absolutely forbidden.

Phones were for work, emergencies and lunchtime only. It's important to know this, because people who have experienced life both with and without smartphones will likely find the workplace use of your smartphone rude.

It can denote distraction and disinterest, so please take that into account when thinking about sending that text.

There is a place for smartphones in the workplace, but don't rely on it as much. (Reuters )

There's a flip side to the etiquette above and it is for those of us who grew up without smartphones. There is, decidedly, a place for smartphones in the workplace.

For instance, people can take notes, add a meeting to their calendars, or send themselves memos, so don't automatically take offence when someone you're doing business with pulls out their smartphone.

A little understanding can go a long way on both sides. And of course, the realization that taking a break from being constantly connected is good thing for our wellbeing doesn't hurt either.

So what do you think? Let us know. 

Do you agree with these guidelines? Do you —  just a second. I gotta take this call.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Dave Stewart is an "ad man" at Graphcom in Charlottetown; a DIY filmmaker and musician; and contributor to The Buzz, Rue Morgue, Art Decades, Studio CX and online at He edited and contributed to the P.E.I. horror anthology Fear from a Small Place, and 26 two-minute episodes of his cartoon for The Buzz, And Yet I Blame Hollywood, were adapted on the CBC-TV show ZeD.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?