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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Phone etiquette? I need some guidelines please

When did it become okay to cut someone off mid-sentence so you could update your social media accounts? And if I don't want to take pictures of myself, why would I want to take pictures of you? 

How to politely inform people that, just because I am not stopping to take a picture of myself every few minutes, it doesn’t mean that I’m at a loose end and ready to take snaps of everyone else? James MacDonald / Bloomberg
How to politely inform people that, just because I am not stopping to take a picture of myself every few minutes, it doesn’t mean that I’m at a loose end and ready to take snaps of everyone else? James MacDonald / Bloomberg

Where’s the book on mobile phone etiquette? As these ubiquitous devices infiltrate every aspect of our lives, we’re in desperate need of some official, internationally recognised guidelines.

Notice, for example, how the humble phone has changed the way we interact in a group setting. On a recent work trip, I noticed a trend. A group of us would be mid-conversation; as soon as one member of the pack lost interest, they would pick up their phone, a clear sign that what was being discussed was no longer interesting enough to hold their attention. I accept that my stories may not be the most riveting, but surely that’s the digital equivalent of getting up, walking away and starting a conversation with someone on the other side of the room? Or telling someone to shut up mid-sentence? Which none of the people I was with would ever be so ill-mannered to do.

Sure enough, as soon as one person started looking at their phone, everyone else was compelled to follow suit. The allure of the black screen was too strong to resist. This meant that every few minutes, conversation would dwindle to an awkward halt as everyone stopped to check their messages, update their social media accounts or answer a few work emails. Is this the natural ebb and flow of modern-day conversation? Chat for a bit; scroll for a bit; chat for a bit; scroll for a bit?

Maybe this means that, as a race, our conversational skills will have to improve exponentially. If we’re constantly competing with the limitless entertainment extravaganza that is the smartphone, maybe we’ll all be forced to be more charming, concise and engaging. Or maybe, as I suspect, we’ll do away with conversation altogether.

The phone epidemic presents another social quandary when in a group setting. I’m not a big ­selfie-taker. I don’t feel the need to chronicle my every move by taking a picture of myself every few minutes. After 37 years of living with this face, I know what it looks like. What this means in a group setting, unfortunately, is that you get roped in to taking photos of everyone else. So, how to politely inform people that, just because I am not stopping to take a picture of myself every few minutes, it doesn’t mean that I’m at a loose end and ready to take snaps of everyone else?

I think the world could also greatly benefit from a chapter on WhatsApp dos and don’ts. Firstly, should this ever be used as a professional tool? I think not. I am already desperately trying to sift through hundreds of emails a day – surviving a barrage of work-related WhatsApps might just push me over the edge.

And secondly, is there any polite way to extricate yourself from a WhatsApp group without all of those involved becoming mortally offended? Is there a way of saying: “I think you guys are cool, but I cannot bear to receive any more of your mindless memes and cat videos?”

My phone-loving friends suggest that I may be the problem. That it’s time for me to adapt and evolve; that phone-induced silence is actually golden. In wishing that everyone else would be more sociable, I have been cast as the antisocial one. Perhaps that guide to phone etiquette might help us find a middle ground?

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Read more of Selina's thoughts:

After a decade, Dubai feels like it has come of age

Why social media influencers can be frustrating for journalists

Why a goodbye in the UAE can be particularly bittersweet

Four lessons learnt as a dog owner in Dubai

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