Sitting at a stoplight near my home, I was alarmed by a driver in the car in front of me who didn’t move when the light turned green. His head was down. From the back, he appeared to be slumped over the wheel.
My immediate reaction was to put my vehicle in park to see if he was OK. I was about to exit my car when his head popped up. He looked up at the light, then in his rear-view mirror, then sped away.
The whole event took 30 seconds, but I quickly realized he was fine. He was probably so engrossed with some text or social media that he didn’t notice the light change.
I have a few pet peeves when it comes to mobile phone use. I teach, so you might be surprised to know that using phones in my classroom doesn’t always annoy me.
But if someone is checking social media in the car in front of me when the light is green, I lose it. Maybe not “road rage” lose it, but I do let out an audible “Come on, man!” (I know this because my 2-year-old and 5-year old repeat it from the back seat).
The fact is we’re still trying to figure out when and where these devices could and should fit into our daily routines. We’re establishing new norms all the time.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center examined Americans’ perceptions of mobile phone use. About 25 percent of the respondents thought it was OK to use mobile devices while walking down the street, using public transport or waiting in line.
View the full report at http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/08/26/americans-views-on-mobile-etiquette/
But pull out that phone in a social setting, and be prepared for glares of disgust. About 95 percent of the respondents said it was not OK to use a mobile device during a meeting, at the movies or worship service.
Here’s the crazy part: 89 percent of those same respondents say they used their phone during a recent social gathering.
It’s not all bad. Some people reported using their phones to support the social gathering. For example, 45 percent used their phone to post a picture of the gathering. 38 percent used their phone to get information they thought would be interesting to the group.
My wife and I have a loosely followed rule about using mobile devices when we’re on a date. One of us can have a phone, with the ringtone up, in case the babysitter calls. Other than that, no mobile devices allowed.
We once spent most of a lunch date fixated on our phones, not talking but scrolling through Facebook and Twitter. It was supposed to be our time to reconnect. Instead, we were distracted by the momentary joy of discovering random news.
It doesn’t always work. Sometimes we forget and pull out a phone to show each other something funny on Facebook. At least we’re trying.
The next time you’re sitting at a stoplight, or you’re on a date, think about the people around you. Take time to concentrate on the people around you.
That important text and social media post will still be there when you’re on your own.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.