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Smartphone etiquette

Posted by Robin Abrahams  August 10, 2011 11:09 AM

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I was interviewed by Good for an article on "Smartphone Etiquette at Every Age," where I and four other etiquette columnists (ranging from 24 to 71) weighed in on various situations. Interestingly, age didn't seem to affect our responses much at all. 

The last situation was one where my advice differed most from everyone else's: 

At happy hour with colleagues, you hear two beeps emanating from your pocket: you have received a text message from a significant other. How do you respond? 

Heaney: I would almost definitely read it and reply. That's probably bad because they're my colleagues, but it's also happy hour. I think that's a casual enough setting to use your phone occasionally. Then I'd put my phone on vibrate, because everyone's phones should always just be on vibrate. 

Abrahams: With great alacrity, if you want your significant other to remain significant and your drinking hours with colleagues to remain "happy," and not become "morose hour of listening to X blubber about her breakup. " 

Yoffe: When there's a natural break in your conversation, excuse yourself and step away from the table and communicate with your significant other. 

Post: Normally, you don't respond. You don't look at it. You keep your focus on your colleagues. If you know that there is a potential for an emergency message coming in, you can excuse yourself from the table take care of it out in the lobby. Don't put it right in their faces what you're doing while you're ignoring them ... You don't want to be constantly assessing your phone whenever someone contacts you, saying, "this one I'll answer, this one I won't, this one's more important than you are, this one isn't."

Howard: Because it's happy hour, a casual gathering, I think reading a text message is fine. And texting would be preferable to taking a call. 

I wonder if it reflects the office cultures that I've been a part of? My experience of going out for drinks after work (and that's the kind of impromptu event I'm thinking of, not a farewell party or reception or something more formal) is that at least half my co-workers are parents, so it's understood that phones are kept on and family members responded to. 

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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