Are you breaching cell phone etiquette?


Many Americans say that using a cell phone – or even its presence – during a meal, a meeting or in the classroom is not appropriate, according to results of a national survey conducted by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future in collaboration with market research and strategy firm Bovitz, Inc. However, the survey report added, those beliefs can vary dramatically by age or by the type of technology that respondents use.

For example, the survey reported that the mere presence of a mobile device on the table during a meal was judged inappropriate by 62 percent of total respondents.  Even worse: texting (judged inappropriate by 76 percent of respondents), e-mailing (79 percent) and browsing the Web (80 percent) during a meal.

And the absolute worst breach of meal-time cell phone etiquette? Talking on a mobile device during a meal -- considered inappropriate by 84 percent of total respondents.

"We're finding a whole new social etiquette developing about the appropriateness of mobile devices," said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, in a statement accompanying the survey findings.

Employed respondents also reported high levels of disapproval for mobile devices during meetings. While putting a cell phone on the table during a meeting was considered inappropriate by a lower percentage (52 percent) than those with the same view about a cell phone on the table during a meal, large percentages of respondents said that it is not appropriate during a meeting to check email (76 percent), send texts (79 percent), browse the web (81 percent) or talk on the phone (90 percent). 

Students were somewhat less harsh in their views of some behavior involving mobile devices in the classroom: 56 percent of students judged a mobile device on a table during class as inappropriate; also considered inappropriate during a class were using e-mail (65 percent), texting (58 percent), browsing the web (63 percent) or talking on the phone (92 percent).

The survey found differing views on cell phone etiquette when examined by age, with younger respondents more tolerant of cell phones at a meal, during a meeting, and in class.

When asked about sending email on a mobile device during a meeting, only 54 percent of respondents ages 18-24 said it was inappropriate, compared to ages 25-34 (68 percent), ages 35-44 (73 percent), ages 45-54 (89 percent), ages 55+ (89 percent).

However, tolerance changes when ownership of different types of mobile devices is considered, regardless of age. For example, while 11 percent of basic cell phone owners said it was appropriate to text during a meeting, 25 percent of smartphone owners said it was appropriate.

"We're starting to see that tolerance of mobile devices is not just reserved for the young; the type of technology one uses makes a difference as well," said Greg Bovitz, president of Bovitz Inc. "Older users who own smartphones are more tolerant."

The report said the most significant difference in views found in the study may be the disparity between how Millennials (born after 1982) and those over 30 perceive the appropriateness of cell phones in social settings.

Overall, much higher percentages of Millennials compared to those over 30 think that mobile devices are appropriate at a meal, during a meeting, or in class -- regardless of what type of cell phone they own.  For example, 56 percent of Millennials said that a mobile device on the table during a meal is appropriate, compared to 31 percent of those 30 and older. 

Even more extreme -- 50 percent of Millennials think it is appropriate to text during a meal, compared to only 15 percent of those 30 and older.

"Millennials simply have different mindsets about the role of technology in their lives, and determining if that technology is appropriate in social situations," said Bovitz.  "Their views are shifting perceptions of how personal technology is tolerated."