When Not to Use Your Smartphone

We’ve become a society of smartphone users. If we’re not staring at a big screen attached to our desktop or laptop, we’re often staring at a little 3-4″ screen. A smartphone is a great way to stay connected to friends, family, and coworkers, but there are times when you just need to put it down and take a look at what’s around you.

In fact, it’s easy to forget just how rude it is to stare at that little screen in many situations. I may feel like the old geezer standing in the distance shouting, “Kids today are so rude!” Frankly, many are without even knowing it. They grew up with a phone in their pocket and that has become the primary mode of communication with friends throughout their day. Kids today would rather text each other than talk when they’re in the same room. Why? I don’t know. Yes, that’s a broad generalization, but let’s be honest here: I’m guilty of it, too.

The intention of this article is to outline several situations where using a smartphone is absolutely inappropriate. Believe it or not, there are times when taking out your phone is a bad idea. Not only can it break the sincerity of a conversation, but also give the impression to others around you that whomever you’re chatting with on the phone (and believe me, they’ll assume it’s the person they like the absolute least in your circle of friends) is more important than they are.

Movie Theater

Even though movie theaters are starting to get stricter on phones, I’m still rather amazed at just how many people shine that bright screen in my eyes from the row in front of me. If the movie is so boring that you feel the need to play Angry Birds in the middle of a dark theater, please just get up and leave the theater.

Oh, and talking on your phone is even worse. Believe it or not, people do it all the time and it’s possibly the rudest thing you can do. If you want to spend your time gossiping, don’t come to a movie theater.

Some theaters have a policy in place where you get one warning, and then you’re ejected without refund. A Texas theater called the Alamo Drafthouse has such a policy, and will even play back complaint calls they receive after ejecting someone for breaking that rule to the audience of the next movie. Trust me, there are some theaters you don’t want to mess with.

Theatrical Play

Even though you might not receive a warning, it’s not polite to light up your screen during a theatrical play. Even if that play is put together by an elementary school, it distracts other attendees from the stage and, thus, is pretty rude. The only exception to this rule in my mind is video taping your youngster, in which case you’re probably better off bringing a camcorder and setting up a tripod off to the side.

Plays are just like movies. The audience is kept in the dark and the stage is lit. This is done on purpose so the peripheral view of other audience members won’t be distracted by something someone else in the audience is doing. By checking your text messages and/or email, you’re creating a visual distraction to other audience members, which breaks immersion.


Weddings are another situation where, unless you’re using your smartphone to film the ceremony or take photos, you shouldn’t have it out at all. Weddings (along with funerals — but I don’t have to tell you not to gab on your phone at a funeral, right?) are typically the most formal events adults can attend. Anything you do that may distract from the bride and groom is considered to be rude. Bottom line: You’re there to support the couple as they tie the knot, not talk to your friends or text them about the wild party planned for Friday night.

Call me an old grouch, but it amazes me how many younger folks seem to live in their smartphones at weddings. Seriously, there’s something really cool happening in front of you. If you don’t think that’s more interesting, you probably shouldn’t have come to the wedding in the first place.

Oh, and this counts double for a groomsman or bridesmaid.

Family Dinner

This is perhaps the most common violation of smartphone ethics. No matter how boring the conversation is at the dinner table, it’s never polite to take your smartphone out and start clicking away at it while people are still eating. I know, I’m speaking as someone from the last century, but it’s true.

If you’re staring at your screen, ticking away, and not paying much attention to the conversation at the table, you’re being rude. This goes double for parents, as they are becoming the central influence on their children.

How many times have you seen a show or a movie with an angsty teenager who spends their time texting friends at the dinner table? There’s a reason that stereotype is portrayed so often in shows and movies.

On a Date

If you spend more time looking at your phone than your date, don’t be surprised if they dump you soon after. In the world of psychology, looking at your phone on a near-constant basis is a sign of boredom and wanting to escape a situation. I’m guilty of doing this as well, and I’m a married man. Not every date night is filled with excitement and new surroundings, but that doesn’t mean you should shut your date out and stare at a screen.

Dates are for getting to know the person directly in front of you. If you want to text someone during it, text them.

At the Hospital

Some hospitals have rules against using your cellphone due in part to some of the equipment used to treat patients who may (or may not) be interfered by the signal of your phone. Whether you believe that it’s still a problem or not, you should always respect the rules of a hospital. Further to that, if you’re at the bedside of a sick family member, pay attention to them.

Looking at your phone instead of the person you’re there to see is possibly the rudest thing you can do. If you need to reach out and connect with someone on the outside world, you should excuse yourself and leave the room. Head down to the hospital cafeteria after offering to bring something back for others in the room. That’s not only more polite, but completely acceptable.

During an Interview or Business Meeting

This one should never have to be said, but it happens. I’ve interviewed almost a dozen people in my time, and it surprised me just how many of them spent some of that interview time with their phone in their hand. Don’t ever touch your phone during an interview. If you want a job, that’s one of the worst things you can do. It demonstrates that you’re easily distracted, not motivated, and ultimately not interested in anything the interviewer has to say. Even during your waiting period before being called in, you should spend that time going over your notes, memorizing your resume, or simply being patient and taking a look at your surroundings.

Trust me. This is coming from someone who has never been denied a job based on an interview. Eye contact is paramount to a successful interview, and having a phone in your hand or even visible to the interviewer breaks that eye contact.

While Driving

During early discussions about this article, LockerGnome’s Chris Pirillo emphasized the importance of not using your phone while driving. Phones these days have the technology to interact with your car so you never have to look at them. Music, phone calls, and more can be just as easily done through the car’s speakers or another external device. There are plenty of great gadgets out there that connect with your phone and allow you hands free operation.

People die because some other driver decided to look at their phone rather than the road. It happens every day. There is nothing more important than the road while you’re driving. Sure, you might be willing to take the risk for yourself, but imagine what could happen to the infant riding in the car you smash into because you didn’t see it change lanes.

Final Thoughts

This article is strongly worded, and intentionally so. Please take my advice for what it’s worth, and know that I’m just as guilty of most of these moral violations as anyone else may be. I’m a technology consultant and writer, and as such I’ve got my head in my iPhone more than anyone else in my family. I do, however, try to put it away during times when the person in front of me is addressing me.

What occasions would you add to this list?

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Ryan Matthew Pierson