Manners & Misdemeanors
Mobile Phone Etiquette: When and Where to Put Your Phone on Silent
Good manners in the digital age.
ILLUSTRATOR Isabel Roxas
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Back then we’d let the land-based handset ring and thoughtfully have someone else pick it up, or excuse ourselves and answer it in the next room if we expected an urgent call.

Nowadays, in meetings, family reunions, even in one-on-one personal conversations, first thing everyone does, as he or she sits down, is put out his or her smartphone on the table as if to announce, “This meeting had better be as interesting as what I get on this iPhone.”

So the corded unit was a nuisance tying you down to a single location, and the smartphone a convenient life vest sending you to drift off anywhere in the world. But can’t we navigate the waters without smashing into each other?

Modern Manners

The good manners that govern real life must extend to the virtual world. In real life, respect for others comes first—if one didn’t know that yet—and so should it when using real life’s modern conveniences. There is nothing more annoying than a message alert in the middle of a good movie, and nothing more vexing than the phone’s owner actually picking up the device and talking to the caller like it was the most natural thing to do.

Or take relentless texting, an impulse that seems to govern most every smartphone user out there. Time was when people were said to have trouble chewing gum and walking at the same time, or so goes the old truism. These days, people actually walk while keying in text messages—texting while crossing the street, strolling in the mall, watching a movie or, as doubtless happens, while driving.

It’s become common to interrupt hard-to-set-up meetings by answering phone calls from florists or caterers. Respect the one you’re with.



A friend (a respectable singer) recounts what she describes as the strangest thing that has ever happened to her during a live performance. She was the guest performer, along with two guitarists, at a museum party. Before the show started she had observed, not with some alarm, how one guitarist set two mobile phones by his feet, near the amplifier, while they were preparing to go on stage. Fine, she’d thought, going along, maybe the phones were both on silent and the guy couldn’t find a safe-enough place to keep them. Imagine her horror when, in the middle of “Take the A-Train,” the amplifier picked up the jangling tone of a police siren from one of the phones, and the audience’s collective gasp when the guitarist actually stopped playing, set his guitar down and picked up the call, unapologetic, walking off to a corner to have a conversation. She and the other guitarist carried on, of course, like nothing happened, but since then she has banned cell phones from all performances, live or recorded.

It’s amazing how good manners seem to vanish into thin air in the face of the mobile phone. Maybe people find the immediacy of connection exciting—and Filipinos are a warm and cuddly lot—but as in the ownership of anything, be it a car, a house or a mobile phone, responsibility is key. Being a responsible mobile phone owner is being considerate to others. Anything less than that is ill-mannered indulgence, at home or anywhere else in the world.

Respect and Responsibility

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1. Respect public events and spaces. When at common occasions such as meetings, weddings, funerals, recording sessions, live theatrical performances; and in public areas such as churches, classrooms, libraries, bookstores, movie theaters, concert halls, film sets, elevators and restrooms, set your cell phone on silent and vibrate mode.

If you must pick up that phone, go off to another room or to a spot at least 15 feet away from anybody, and don’t yell. In all cases, distinguish shared areas from private space.

2. Respect privacy—your own as well as that of others. If you do have to answer your phone in a common area, keep your voice down so as not to reveal personal identity information as your address, bank or birthday. Not only does this threaten your own personal security; it invades other people’s privacy.

Also, ask permission from anyone whose image, acts and voice you would like to capture: all citizens are entitled to privacy; not everyone wants to end up as an Internet or tabloid celebrity by default. And remember that taking close-up shots and forwarding photos of friends or strangers drunk or asleep is neither cool nor funny.

There is nothing more annoying than a message alert in the middle of a good movie, and nothing more vexing than the phone’s owner actually picking up the device and talking to the caller like it was the most natural thing to do.



3. Respect your personal conversation partners. It has taken more time and effort for your friend, business associate or date to join you for lunch than it has for anyone to call you on the phone, hasn’t it? Yet, it’s become common to interrupt such hard-to-set-up meetings by answering phone calls from florists or caterers. Respect the one you’re with. On the other hand, as soon as your meeting ends, remember to return all missed phone calls to explain why you weren’t available earlier.

4. Respect safety rules. However tempting multitasking might be, you risk too much when you text, dial or answer calls while driving. If you need to go hands-on, pullover. The life you save is first likely your own. And turn the phone off or put it on airplane mode before a flight. As the senior flight attendant announces mobile phone devices turned on “might interfere with flight navigation devices,” you don’t want to test that by having your phone guide your plane to a steep dive into Antarctica, now do you?

5. Respect yourself. Must you be wired all the time? Shouldn’t you give yourself a break and set hours for people to connect with you, much like office hours? You don’t even have to tell your callers this; a few unanswered calls at 5 a.m. should be enough to make them realize you’re not a doctor, you simply don’t pick your mobile phone before the sun hits the clouds—unless it’s your best man on the other end of the line, out to get you to the church on time.

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About The Author
Carlos Siguion-Reyna
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