Thursday 23 March 2017

Phones in cinemas are bad - in theatres they're unforgivable

Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Are there some areas where phones should be off-limits?
Are there some areas where phones should be off-limits?

Last week, as I sat watching a great production of Martin McDonagh's 'The Lonesome West' in a small Dublin theatre, I noticed a beam of light repeatedly coming from the audience a few rows ahead of me.

Peering over, I saw that a young woman was keeping up with various social media and messaging sites on her phone.

At the interval, I confronted the lady and asked whether she might stop doing it.

"Why? I have it on silent," was her offended reply.

The young woman isn't alone. Across theatres, cinemas and other places traditionally given to periods of mandated attention, a growing number of people feel no social trespass in using phones whenever they want.

The evidence isn't just anecdotal.

The latest survey of 940 Irish people by Deloitte shows that over one in five Irish people now routinely use a smartphone while eating in a restaurant with friends or family. (The percentage is even higher for using a phone during dinner time at home.)

Similarly, 35pc of us now routinely take out and use the phone when "meeting friends on a night out".

And almost one in 10 of us admit to regularly using the phone while driving.

Of course, none of this will come as any big surprise to anyone alive in the year 2016. There is scarcely such a thing as a gathering of young people in a cafe without smartphones out, on and engaged.

And to be fair, phones can bring some extra laughs to a friendly gathering. We've all seen a funny photo or an exchange we'd like to share in person.

But the extent to our smartphones' physical omnipresence is starting to make us upset with each other. The same Deloitte survey shows that over 40pc of adults between the ages of 24 and 44 now routinely have "disagreements with their partner due to their mobile phone usage". Indeed, one in five us have a row about it at least once a fortnight, according to the research.

With this in mind, perhaps it's time to refresh our sense of social etiquette when it comes to using phones in public and among ourselves. Maybe we're forgetting our manners a bit. So I'd gently suggest these three rules.

1. Don't keep checking phones in dark places like theatres and cinemas. It's utterly ignorant. Everyone around you - sometimes including the actors on stage - can see the bright beam of light shoot up into the air. It's a significant distraction.

I'd even add some plane journeys to the list of venues, by the way: if you're on an overnight flight and someone keeps switching their high lumens screen on and off casually, it's simply annoying.

2. If you must check your phone in a dark place, do fellow attendees or passengers the courtesy of turning the screen's brightness to a minimum and using the phone discreetly. (If you don't know how to do this, just swipe down from the top on an Android phone and drag the brightness bar to the left; on an iPhone, swipe up from the bottom and do the same thing.)

3. Try to keep your ringtones and notification volumes commensurate to where you are. At work or in a restaurant, it's simply polite to have your phone's tones at a level that you can hear but that don't pierce everyone else's focus. The same principle goes for letting your phone ring out: if you must do that, hit the mute button on the phone for the remainder of the ringing. (If you don't know how to do this, just hit the 'volume down' button on an iPhone or Android phone.)

Readers will have umpteen other examples of etiquette and manners related to phones. (Send me in a few if you like.)

They might point out the general observation that keeping your phone casually in your hand when sitting down with someone is a pretty crude signal that you're open to casual distraction at any time.

But that's entirely up to you and your own sense of propriety: it doesn't directly interfere with the tranquillity of those around you.

What should be more pressing is when your smartphone use crosses over into disturbance for others.

It's the digital equivalent of the person who sits beside you on a bus seat hocking up phlegm - or even spitting it out - without appearing to acknowledge any kind of social behavioural duty to fellow passengers.

Don't get me wrong: I love phones. I use them most of the day, every day. And I've never had any time for those who preach rubbish such as "your Facebook friends aren't your real friends".

But there's too much thoughtlessness going on with phones. And I'd really, really like to attend a play without taking part in someone's Snapchat conversation.

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