We've Created a Monster: Digital Natives and Mobile Etiquette

Oct 01, 2015


We've all been there: You're standing in a long line at your local grocery store with a shopping cart full of food when your cellphone rings. Instinctively, you look at the caller ID. It's that friend you've been playing phone tag with for the past few weeks. You now have a choice to make: You could tap "ignore" and slip your phone back in your pocket, recognizing that there are dozens of people around you that do not want to be privy to your private conversation, or you could answer the call, use one hand to load all your groceries onto the belt, and then ignore the cashier when he asks "How are you?" and "Paper or plastic?" because you are too engrossed in your friend's story to answer politely.

Which do you choose?

For those of you who answered, "Take the call! There's no law saying I can't," it's time to reevaluate your idea of social decorum. For those of you who said, "Ignore it," I'm with you 100%. There's nothing wrong with waiting until you are out of line and in the comfort of your own car to call your friend back. And, more importantly, by doing so, you'll be proudly adhering to the new mobile etiquette.

Many of us struggle to identify the proper time and place to use our cellphone, especially now with the ubiquity of smartphone ownership. After all, according to Pew Research, "some 92% of U.S. adults now have a cellphone of some kind, and 90% of those cell owners say that their phone is frequently with them." And this isn't just about taking a call anymore. What happens when you are at a dinner party and everyone is arguing over what year the song "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was released-do you continue arguing, or do you take out your smartphone to find the correct answer?

Luckily, we don't have to wonder about these questions anymore. As a society, whether we've meant to our not, we've made up our own laws about proper mobile use. For example, that Pew study also found that "fully 77% of all adults think it is generally OK for people to use their cellphones while walking down the street and 75% believe it is OK for others to use phones on public transit. But only 38% think it is generally OK for others to use cellphones at restaurants and just 5% think it is generally OK to use a cellphone at a meeting."

And what about that dinner party I was just talking about? If you thought that breaking out your smartphone to Google Bonnie Tyler's discography was totally fine, you're in good company. It seems that "89% of cellphone owners reported using their phone in at least one of these eight ways during their most recent social gathering," according to Pew Research. That means nine out of the 10 people at your next party will be using their cellphone for one reason or another, whether it's to take a picture, update their Facebook status, or respond to a text.

What does this have to do with Digital Natives? Everything, considering those between the ages 18-29 are the most likely offenders when it comes to breaking mobile etiquette. Not only do people in this age group use their phones more than any other age group (not shocking), they are more tolerant of others using cellphones in public places and they use their phones for a wider variety of reasons. For example, according to Pew, "52% of cellphone owners ages 18 to 29 say that they frequently use their phone to look up information about where they are going while out in public, compared with 9% of cell users 65 and older who do this frequently."

Similarly, if you are having a dinner party with your young adult friends, the chances that nine out of the 10 attendees using their mobile phone just jumped to 10 out of 10 attendees. That's right. A full 98% of mobile users between 18-29 used their cellphones at the last social engagement they attended.

We don't need a Pew report to know that mobile isn't going away anytime soon, so what do these statistics mean for media and content companies? If nothing else, it should compound the urgency regarding implementing a solid mobile strategy. If you haven't already invested in a mobile, you better start immediately. We are no longer living in a time when people will choose to wait to view content on a laptop or desktop computer when they carry a mobile device around with them 24/7. When someone will blatantly ignore their friends at a party to read something on their phone, you have to have your content ready to go at the blink of an eye to keep up.