Always On and Always Connected: What Does It Mean?

I got my first cell phone in college, back when Nextel phones were still a thing and I paid by the minute, paid long distance charges, and certainly didn’t text. And I only bit the bullet after a stalled car made me late for work and I didn’t have a way to let them know I wasn’t going to be on time. This was strictly an emergency phone (though perhaps the definition of emergency shifted as the cost of my minutes went down…but I digress). About 5 years after that, I got my first smart phone through work and I’ll admit to being thrilled because as a young professional, it was a sign that I was important (the naivete of youth is adorable, isn’t it?). Fast forward to 2015, and 92% of adults in the U.S. now have cell phones. And don’t even get me started on kids having phones…

This leaves us facing etiquette challenges that just simply didn’t exist ten or fifteen years ago. The Pew Research Center, a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, recently released a report, Americans’ Views on Mobile Etiquette. It’s fascinating stuff.  I share this not to reminisce about the good ol’ days before cell phones ruined our lives or propelled us into the greatest technological era of all time (depending on your view), but I do find our attitudes interesting when it comes to the appropriateness of using our phones.

When asked for their views on how mobile phone use impacts group interactions, 82% of adults say that when people use their phones in [social] settings it frequently or occasionally hurts the conversation. Meanwhile, 33% say that cell phone use in these situations frequently or occasionally contributes to the conversation and atmosphere of the group. Women are more likely than men to feel cell use at social gatherings hurts the group: 41% of women say it frequently hurts the gathering vs. 32% of men who say that the same. Similarly, those over age 50 (45%) are more likely than younger cell owners (29%) to feel that cellphone use frequently hurts group conversations.

And while those 82% said that using phones may hurt the conversation, 89% of adults who own a cellphone say they used it at their last social gathering. 89%. Yowza. Yet, before we mourn the loss of personal connection, of those 89%, 78% reported using their phone for what Pew termed a “group contributing” action: posting a video or photo about the gathering, sharing something that happened, looking up information to contribute to the conversation or connecting with someone at the gathering. My, how the times have changed from Zach Morris’ Saved by the Bell phone…

The report goes on to talk about always being connected, the types of activities for which we use our phones and how much usage we tolerate in different public spaces. As you would expect from a research study, Pew simply presents the facts. They don’t chastise us for our behavior, nor credit cell phones for bringing us together across the globe. Rather, they present the information and let you decide what it means to you. And it’s certainly had the wheels of my brain turning since I read it. What does your connectivity mean to you? And what do you think it says to others?

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