A couple of days ago, my better half and I were talking about mobile phone etiquette. The scenario was someone’s mobile phone ringing during a get together or a meal with friends and family.
I argued that face-to-face should take precedence over the mobile phone, i.e., that under normal circumstances, the person should not interrupt the conversation to answer the call. Husband thought otherwise. He agued that if someone called you directly on your mobile phone, as opposed to sending a text message or an e-mail, it’s because the caller really wanted to talk with you. Therefore, the call should be answered. Indeed, in this ‘always on’ society, we increasingly expect immediate access to information and people, across a wide range of hours and circumstances, for both professional and personal reasons. My other half might just have been describing the social norm.
But I suspect that there is another reason why we feel compelled to answer the phone, even if it rings during social occasions. It is more than concern over the caller’s expectations. It is anxiety over missing out on something. In a study that Chris Voss and I conducted among early adopters of mobile data solutions, we found that respondents felt uneasy when they thought that they were not up to date with what was going on around them. Quotes like these were a common occurrence among study participants:
– ‘It reassures me that I am always in contact’
– ‘It offers an additional level of feeling in contact’
– ‘I am at the end of this device, and they will call me, and I will be happy to be called’
This is now a widespread phenomenon. Increasing numbers of people report that they check their smartphones first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Moreover, a recent survey revealed that the majority of young professionals were planning to use their smartphones for work related purposes during the holiday season, including New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
We have all been caught in boring meals and social events, desperate for a way out. And, we do, at times, wait on time-sensitive phone calls. For all other occasions, however, I still believe that we should give more attention to the people across the table, than those at the other end of the line. What is your view? And how do you deal with mobile phone interruptions?