Texting-talking etiquitte? Email ADD?
May 8, 2009 1:42 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine constantly texts and checks email on her phone when we're out together, which I find irksome. Am I right to think this is discourteous? Or am I behind the times?

One of my friends, Betsy, uses her Blackberry to keep up with work emails and scheduling, but her job does not require her to be available by phone 24/7. When we're out at happy hour after work, or having a coffee on the weekend, or playing board games at home -- non-work social time that we've planned together -- Betsy will set her phone on the table between us and check it every few minutes or so for new emails and texts. When she gets one, she'll invariably respond, usually by typing away at the table during the course of the conversation.

This bothers me for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. I think it has to do with a general feeling that face-to-face conversation shouldn't have to compete for attention with emails. I feel slighted when she checks out of the group conversation in order to text, especially when it's clear she's carrying on some sort of conversation via text while ignoring the one that's happening right in front of her.

I usually leave my phone in my bag when I'm enjoying social activities with my friends. Is it weird to be annoyed by Betsy's behavior? I don't want to bring it up with her if I'm completely in the minority on this one. If my irritation is valid, what should I do about it? What's a polite way to raise the issue next time it happens?

In case it's relevant, we're both in our mid-twenties. This happens in one-on-one situations as well as in groups. The emails/texts are occasionally work-related, though generally not of high importance. Thanks for your insights!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (62 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You're behind the times.
posted by 6550 at 1:44 PM on May 8, 2009

The people I am acquainted with who do this sort of thing are generally kind of flakey.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:46 PM on May 8, 2009 [10 favorites]

You're right to think it's discourteous.
posted by frobozz at 1:47 PM on May 8, 2009 [16 favorites]

It's rude.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 1:47 PM on May 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think this is ridiculously rude. I have been known to respond quickly when interrupted by a call or text, but to keep the phone out and check it proactively while she's spending time with you must be very irritating. Doing this in a group would irritate me less, but one on one? Give me a break.

The problem is, even if you are in the minority about it, it still bothers you. Therefore, I think it's perfectly fine to tell her that it bothers you that she doesn't seem to find you a high priority even when you're right in front of her, and that you'd appreciate it if she only responded to truly important matters. Then don't be bothered when the phone actually buzzes and she responds.

I've seen this in many ettiquette columns (Dear Abby, Dear Annie, Dear Prudie) and they all say that it's rude.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 1:48 PM on May 8, 2009

I may also be behind the times, but I feel the same way when I'm in social situations and the people that I'm with are obsessed with keeping tabs on their email/texting/FB/whatever. If it happens to the point that I'm very bothered by it, I'll say something. If it continues, I'll usually make a point of not spending as much time with that person. I realize advances in technology make being connected all the time possible, but that doesn't make it necessary.
posted by scarykarrey at 1:49 PM on May 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

Etiquitte, to me, is about how we act towards others in order to not piss them off. It's not a standard by which we judge how others act.
posted by stubby phillips at 1:49 PM on May 8, 2009 [6 favorites]

It's incredibly rude, and also so incredibly common as to be acceptable today. I have literally gotten in shouting matches when out with friends about people checking their blackberries compulsively, but the behavior isn't going away anytime soon. For people our age (mid-twenties) and younger, this is just the way it's going to be for the rest of our lives, so unfortunately we must get used to it. There will always be hold-outs that think face-to-face conversation should take precedence over emails and texts, but you will be considered the dinosaur.
posted by rooftop secrets at 1:49 PM on May 8, 2009

It is rude. But people who do that tend to be more focused on quantity of relationship quantity rather than quality, so in my experience they will blow you off when called out because they have so many other friends that don't notice or care because they're doing the same thing.
posted by substars at 1:49 PM on May 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

This bothers me for reasons I can't quite put my finger on.

Well, for starters, it's terribly rude.

I think it has to do with a general feeling that face-to-face conversation shouldn't have to compete for attention with emails.

You're absolutely right.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:50 PM on May 8, 2009 [6 favorites]

er, "Etiquette". sorry.
posted by stubby phillips at 1:50 PM on May 8, 2009

on quantity of damn.
posted by substars at 1:51 PM on May 8, 2009

It is discourteous, but you may also be behind the times. Maybe these instincts are inconsistent with one another, but here's how I look at it: It is presumptively rude to check out of group activities in a way that signals a lack of interest in the people you are with, unless it is mutually accepted. In some cases -- among others who feel as she does -- she would have safe harbor. Otherwise -- as is the case with you -- it is not.

How does she know? I would stop talking when she does it, and when she puts it down, ask if it was important or if she is free to continue with the activity. If she doesn't get it at that point, try sending her a text while you are together, saying "I'm making a face at you right now."
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:51 PM on May 8, 2009 [12 favorites]

depends on how much a stink you want to make about it. If I had a friend like that they would rapidly devolve to acquaintance. But, I am a stick-in-the-mud in this way. If you want to address it there is everything from direct, "hey, Betsy I feel like I am competing for your attention can we just talk/hang out without the cell phone" to passive aggressive "I'm not interrupting anything am I?", to the plain jerky "yeah, call me when you want to hang out [walks away]". YMMV and any of these may be appropriate (or not) depending on circumstances.
posted by edgeways at 1:52 PM on May 8, 2009

There is a big difference between having a phone/blackberry on the table so you're reachable if something important comes in (a sign of the times) and actually checking it every few minutes thereby ignoring the people around you (abundantly rude).

"Hey, are you expecting something really important to come in on your phone? 'Cause I really want to talk you know. It's so great to have face time - let's just put everything away and talk." If she doesn't get it with this subtle statement, then she's a totally unworthy flake.
posted by meerkatty at 1:52 PM on May 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

I do this all the time and it's both irksome and rude, if others are expecting undivided attention. It's also very often a compulsion. Tell her you'd prefer she didn't check her phone. It's not rude to ask.
posted by mikeh at 1:52 PM on May 8, 2009

I will respond to texts and e-mails while I am out with people (groups, and one-on-one).

I'm involved in activities that quite often require a quick response from me. I can't tell from looking at the phone (which will only say "new message" or "new e-mail") if it's urgent or not; I have to actually read what is said and then respond (or not respond) accordingly.

I *will* say "hang on, I have to respond to this", though, and it's a bit strange to check preemptively for messages. Isn't the phone supposed to beep or vibrate or burble when a message comes in?
posted by Lucinda at 1:54 PM on May 8, 2009

Just because some people with no class accept it doesn't make you behind the times.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:54 PM on May 8, 2009 [14 favorites]

Unfortunately, this is much more common than I would like to admit and is here to stay. Usually when I want to check my messages or texts when out, I will do it during an "alone" period (walking to the bar to grab a drink, hitting the restroom, etc.).

However, repeated checking in front of the person is rude. It shows a severe amount of discourtesy to the person you are with. Would you do this on a date? I wouldn't. So why would this be acceptable when going out with a friend? The same principle would apply.
posted by seppyk at 1:55 PM on May 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Well, it depends on the individual I think.

I grew up connected. I'm freshly 28, was typing when I was 4, always had a computer at my beck and call even in school. To me, a glance at a screen or phone, even when in the middle of a heated discussion, isn't entirely out of place. I never know what's going to come in, and I'm as often checking my work email as personal during this. I wouldn't think much of anyone /looking/ at their phone, but it'd probably bug me if they responded. Not a great deal, though. That being said, I don't own a cellphone, but I'll grab my iPod Touch and treat it pretty much the same way.

A roommate of mine is the complete opposite, having far less exposure to the hot, piping Interwebs. They are the sort that will let a phone ring and ring and ring until it goes to voicemail, while I can't leave a ringing phone unanswered (to the point that I'll tense up if my neighbor's phone keeps ringing - This bugs me worse than a crying baby).

This is occasionally a point of contention between us - "Why are you always looking away when we're talking?" and "Why didn't you respond to my email? I sent it 5 minutes ago!" respectively, but it's never been a /major/ concern.
posted by Rendus at 1:58 PM on May 8, 2009

I agree with you, it can be annoying, but I've also noticed myself doing it sometimes. If someone mentioned it to me I'd immediately put my phone away.

Maybe you could say something along the lines of "Do you never get a chance to switch off? You're always using your phone! Take a break for a bit."
posted by knapah at 1:59 PM on May 8, 2009

I once stopped hanging out with someone over this. We weren't best friends forever, or anything, but we were hanging out at my house, I had fed him dinner, and smoked him out. Instead of talking with me, or even answering my questions, he carried on a long conversation with some girl from Craiglist he had never met.

Listen, I'm not a GET OFF MY LAWN grandmother. I just figured, well, obviously we're not enjoying each other's company. He'd rather flirtext than talk to me, I'd rather pull a tooth than ever see him again.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:00 PM on May 8, 2009 [6 favorites]

The OP asked: If my irritation is valid, what should I do about it? What's a polite way to raise the issue next time it happens?

As others have said here, your feelings are eminently reasonable. What should you do about it? I've never been in quite this situation, but you could possibly try the direct route ("Hey, I'd appreciate it if you put that thing away...") or making a joke ("You know, I didn't think that they were *actually* made out of crack..."). Or while she's busy checking, you could even send her a goofy text from your phone, saying something like, "Hey, can we hang out?" Not really sure, though.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 2:00 PM on May 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

Jesus Christ. I love all the responses like, "somebody did this to me so I punched him in the face to show how much more I knew about etiquette than him."

There is a BIG distinction between one-on-ones and certain types of group situations. If I'm with one other person, i will ignore it unless I'm expecting something important, in which case I will explain and then apologize. But in a certain type of group situation, people will often divide off into sub-threads where they're talking to only one or two people out of the group. During times like that, when I'm not directly involved, I'll take out my Blackberry and check it. It's actually mostly something to do so i don't feel awkward being at loose ends.

if your friend is actually leaving conversations she is directly involved in, that is not terribly polite. But I'd be willing to be bet she doesn't know it bothers you. Probably talk to her about it before you crucify her for it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:00 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Or while she's busy checking, you could even send her a goofy text from your phone, saying something like, "Hey, can we hang out?" Not really sure, though.

that's a really good and funny way to get the point across nicely.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:01 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I should probably point out that most of the times that I have found myself doing this I've been with people I'm not particularly interested in. (And yes I know that it's not very nice)
posted by knapah at 2:02 PM on May 8, 2009

You're only behind the times in the sense that the urge of checking email/texts/updating twitter/posting cat pictures to your blog may strike every few minutes during the course of a casual conversation. But the actual necessity of interrupting face-to-face interaction for that sort of stuff doesn't usually exist, which makes doing it pretty rude. If there is a necessity (something important at work or other personal life), it's the sort of thing your friend should mention in advance and keep to a minimum. I would go with meerkatty's phrasing on how to address it.
posted by notquitemaryann at 2:02 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Exactly, notquitemaryann. I've been "plugged in" for most of my life, as well, and I get the urges to check email/texts/etc. just as much as the next technophile. I think we've been spoiled into the "instant gratification" mindset, which includes getting as much input as possible at all times. Be nice to your fellow humans and pay attention to them! The internetz will wait, I promise.
posted by scarykarrey at 2:05 PM on May 8, 2009

Nthing that it's rude and also that it's very common, sadly. I get texts and ignore the buzzing in my pocket (see SMS thread on the blue side of the world today)... until there is an obvious lull or I have a moment. It's not like I am some ER doctor on emergency heart surgery call, after all.

Unless there's a reason for her to be hovering she shouldn't really be doing that. At the very least, she should offer an "Excuse me, I'm expecting something important."

I can forgive glancing to see what it is once and awhile. But stopping to answer, unless it's important, is very rude.

The next time she did that I think I'd make a WTF face.

Hello? I'm actually here with you!
posted by rokusan at 2:08 PM on May 8, 2009

When Betsy is spending time with you, she has two choices: Talk with you, or read her email. She chooses to read her email. Betsy would rather check her email than talk with you. Betsy likes spending time with her Blackberry more than she likes spending time with you.

It's OK if these are Betsy's preferences. She should, though, tell you. But, most people would find it hard to say, "I like checking email more than I like talking with you," so you should do this for her: "Hey Betsy, you like reading email more than you like spending time with me. That's fine, but I want to spend my time with people who want to spend time with me. If you ever change your mind, let me know, and preferably don't let me know via message from your Blackberry while you are sitting with someone else."

Yes, utterly rude. Kinda like people who would rather watch TV than talk with you. Kinda like if you were talking with someone, and they turned around and walked off. It's not the latest, cool thing to do. It's just rude.
posted by Houstonian at 2:09 PM on May 8, 2009 [8 favorites]

This is rude. The more intimate the situation the ruder it is—it's incredibly rude when you are having dinner with one other person, much less so when you are hanging out with a bunch of people at happy hour. You are not alone in your feelings.

There are many people who do this. Sometimes it seems to me like everyone does this, but there is a small element of confirmation bias—the people who don't do it probably, like me, have their mobile phone on silent or off so I don't notice when they don't pick up the phone. So I don't think it is acceptable either, one just doesn't notice the vast polite majority.
posted by grouse at 2:10 PM on May 8, 2009

Or while she's busy checking, you could even send her a goofy text from your phone, saying something like, "Hey, can we hang out?"

I love this. I'd even add "I'd love some quality time with you."
posted by rokusan at 2:10 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a friend that does this constantly. Everytime she texts or checks an email, I ask, "Anything interesting?" I did it so often one night that she got annoyed and asked me why I needed to know everything about every freaking text she got. I just told her I just wanted to know what was so vital she stopped mid-conversation to answer. She got the point.

She still does it, but now she says, "Oh that's my friend,blah...she always sends me random texts." Or "oooh, it's so and so..they want to hang. Should I invite them?"
posted by teleri025 at 2:22 PM on May 8, 2009

If the choices are "behind the times" vs. "completely rude" I'll have to go with "behind the times" because I don't see checking blackberry alerts as necessarily rude. Granted, I wasn't sitting at the table with you and your buddies so I don't have the full context, but here are two situations:

1) you are sitting around having a group conversation a bar with the TV on in the background. Something catches Betsy's attention on the TV, and she turns to it. Rude?

2) you and your friends are playing a board game on the coffee table. Betsy sees a magazine on the coffee table that strikes her interest, and flips through it. Rude?

3) you guys are hanging out at the kitchen table, discussing stuff. Betsy's cell phone starts to ring. She checks to see who it is, but does not answer the phone. Rude?

Obviously if you are talking directly to Betsy, or require Betsy's attention, her distraction would be rude in any case. The blackberry is just a technological advancement that includes numerous more opportunities for distraction; blackberry distraction kind of creeps on on you. The blackberry doesn't create any special rules - I'd say that you treat it just like you would if she picked up a magazine, or turned her attention to the TV.

If you value Betsy's friendship, address it - by setting expectations. Tease her for being a blackberry addict, but tell her up front that she doesn't need to check her blackberry every ten seconds when she's with you.

Personally, anytime I've ever found myself checking my blackberry at a social function, it was often because I was subconsciously telegraphing that I was either bored, felt excluded, or wasn't having any fun. Could that be the case here?
posted by jabberjaw at 2:23 PM on May 8, 2009

This behavior strikes me as very rude, very young and very show-offish. Intentionally or not, she's making a big deal about how important she is. She can't be unplugged from the Matrix of her digital life for more than five minutes because she's just that indispensable.

Of course, she may not mean to send you that message personally. She may simply thrive on the feeling of being connected and in-demand. Either way, it's hurting your feelings. Talk to her about it.

I'm guessing that your life, like hers, is a busy one. It sounds like your get-togethers may be boiling down to watching her check her e-mail, and who has the time for that?
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 2:23 PM on May 8, 2009

I've done the call-from-across-the-table thing, which is also rude, but had the effect that I wanted.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 2:25 PM on May 8, 2009

There are two ways this could be.

OT1H, Betsy could be rude and not value your company very highly.

OTOH, Betsy might be one of those twitchy, fidgety people who have to do SOMETHING every minute or two or they'll explode or something. If she wasn't checking her blackberry, she'd be folding her napkin into a swan or doodling or something.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:27 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by unixrat at 2:28 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you were complaining about her always having a Blackberry close at hand, checking it now and then (maybe a couple times an hour), and occasionally politely excusing herself to send a message (maybe a few times on any given day), I'd say you were behind the times.

But if she literally does this "every few minutes," you're not behind the times -- she's just being rude, especially if she interrupts your conversation to type a message without giving some kind of apology.
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:28 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Look at this from another angle: Why are you so needy? People have instant connections all over the world now, why should she have to drop everything just to give you her undivided attention? Keep in mind, she's not giving anyone complete attention, so why is it bothering you?

Neither of you is right or wrong, this is a matter of different and incompatible standards. You like X, Betsy likes Y. How to bridge the divide? By being an adult and asking for what you want or need in a relationship. A simple "Hey, I thought it was just you and me hanging out" articulates what you want, but it she might not take it well.

Ultimately, you need to decide whether this is a deal breaker or not. Once you figure that out, you'll know how much or how little you want to spend with Betsy.

Don't text her while she's sitting in front of you, that's passive aggressive hostility that will probably backfire.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:32 PM on May 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think this is rude. But I am also old enough to think that "No problem" is rude when used as a substitute for "You're welcome."
I think that we as a society are in the process of negotiating what the norms are for people/people interactions that involve technology. And part of this negotiation is going to have to be explicit and maybe a bit uncomfortable. Furthermore, there are lots of situations that require different etiquette norms depending on who we are with. My kids know that even if I don't care, they shouldn't swear around their grandparents. And people with blackberrys will, I hope, get enough negative reinforcement to realize that texting in the company of some people (yeah, probably mostly older folks) is roughly equivalent to picking your nose at the dinner table.
posted by Killick at 2:34 PM on May 8, 2009

It's Very rude! Notice the capital V in very. People today are tied to their cell phones, Blackberry's, iPods, you name it. Its like they have this unseen umbilical cord attached to these and can't function without them. Its bad enough when they're alone and need this reassurance that they still have somebody to talk to, or some music to listen to, but its just plain rude ( putting it mildly) when they are with others and its an ongoing thing.

And to Rendus who says a ringing phone bugs them "worse" than a crying baby....that just says it all about some peoples priorities these days.

People need to give their heads a shake!!
posted by Taurid at 2:42 PM on May 8, 2009

I think it's rude, considering the general guidelines that the person you are (1) face-to-face with and (2) engaged in conversation/activity with before anyone else calls/emails/walks by should be the highest priority for your attention.

However, it is the kind of thing that is ok to some people and in some situations. If I'm hanging out with a friend and we're just sitting on the couch watching TV and occasionally making comments, then I probably wouldn't care if they were fiddling with their phone nonstop. If it's someone I'm on a dinner date with, and I haven't seen them in a couple months, it's less acceptable. So, really, it's a gray area. But since it makes you uncomfortable, it's absolutely ok for you to ask that she stop.

I've dealt with situations like this in a similar way to Clyde Mnestra's suggestion: if I am having a conversation and the friend starts fiddling with her phone or whatever, I stop talking. The friend almost always notices and comments right away, and I reply, "oh, you were doing something else, I figured I'd wait until you were done." It's best if you make this nonchalant rather than pissy or passive-aggressive sounding. People get the message pretty quickly.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:55 PM on May 8, 2009

She may not be required to be in contact with work 24/7, but it's probably expected. I am in a similar situation at my work. If my boss called me and I didn't answer, I would need an answer for why I was unavailable, even if I were not at work.

Also, you don't mention if work pays for the BB. In a lot of ways that changes the question a bit more. If they pay for her to be connected, they expect her to be connected.

It may be rude, but if they pay her and you don't, it's a sort of rude that goes with the territory.
posted by winna at 2:59 PM on May 8, 2009

It's rude. But a lot of people do it, so if you don't accept it then you're in for a lot of unnecessary stress.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:04 PM on May 8, 2009

Tell her that it bothers you, she may not even realize that it does. Personally, unless I'm having an extremely important conversation (rarely ever), I could care less if someone checks their phone or texts. None of my friends care, and neither do I. I guess you could put me in the "not needy" camp. My friends and I are so good at text messaging, that we don't even have to stop the conversation, we can do both at the same time.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:10 PM on May 8, 2009

Brandon Blatcher: Look at this from another angle: Why are you so needy? People have instant connections all over the world now, why should she have to drop everything just to give you her undivided attention? Keep in mind, she's not giving anyone complete attention, so why is it bothering you?

Neither of you is right or wrong, this is a matter of different and incompatible standards.

This is true only in the basest sense: all issues of etiquette and rudeness are simply questions of "different and incompatible standards," as is virtually every issue of how we treat one another, putting aside evident inflictions of physical harm.

I think asking someone to pay attention when spending time with you isn't being excessively needy; usually, a Betsy is banking on others paying attention to her when she is done, and simply isn't reciprocating. It is different, I would agree, if everyone within a group adopts this mode of behavior, and it's a venial sin if Betsy simply doesn't know. But describing this as neediness strikes me as risible.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:32 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's rude. Call waiting is rude too.

Most people are not so important that they need to be reachable all the time.

You should say/text something to her --

Maybe it's behind the times, but two people in a relationship, any relationship, should each have a say in how the relationship should be conducted (I didn't mean for that to sound so clinical).

Group situations are different, I guess -- I'd still think it was less than classy, but wouldn't care so much because I'd be talking with the people who were actually interested in being at the gathering.
posted by nnk at 4:01 PM on May 8, 2009

Eh, I had a job where I was required to be on call 24/7. I never incessantly checked my Blackberry when out with people. If I knew I was likely to be busy, then I probably would not have gone out in the first place - I would have likely been glued to my computer. On the flipside, if I felt I wasn't likely to be terribly busy but could get pinged by superiors, I'd check every hour or so. Even in my super-high-intensity job, waiting an hour was usually acceptable.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 4:04 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whenever I'm with someone who is doing that, I simply stop talking while they check their phone, answer their txt, whatever. Or as soon as they pick up the phone, I will go to the restroom or kitchen or whatever. If it happens repeatedly, I'll clean the kitchen. I mean, I figure anyone who is that involved with communication which isn't part of the one-on-one time I'm spending with them 1) would like privacy while they take care of their communications and 2) must have something very important going on.

I also never am shy about asking them if everything is okay when they come back into focussing on me. I make sure this was nothing important that would require them dashing out the door, etc.

Long story short: it's rude. It implies a greater priority on the incoming communications than my company. If someone were doing that habitually around me, I'd find myself addressing it with them or simply choosing not to be around them as much.
posted by hippybear at 4:13 PM on May 8, 2009

You could send her this:

posted by namesarehard at 4:15 PM on May 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

The people saying it's rude and discourteous are today's getoffmylawnoldsters abjectly failing to recognize a cultural shift and a breed dying off almost as fast as the WWII veterans.

Anyone who says this is providing more information about the cultural homogeneity of their social circle than about societal trends at large. Giving someone you're face-to-face with the ability to communicate a complete thought to you without your being openly distracted will never go out of style. Psychological research bears out that we're not capable of effective multi-tasking, so I know if someone does this that they're paying much less attention to me so that they can attend to something that's probably not immediately important.

I'm in my early twenties, as are most of my friends. We effectively grew up with text messaging, as I'm sure the poster did. Plenty of us don't do this. Checking it occasionally, when things are quiet? Sure, alright. In the middle of a conversation? Lame. My reaction to that behavior would be to stop talking, and tell Betsy in so many words that I don't really feel like talking to her if I can't get her to listen to what I'm saying.
posted by invitapriore at 4:20 PM on May 8, 2009 [16 favorites]

It's rude, unless there is some overriding reason that you know about. Work lunch? Of course she can check the stuff. Expecting a new baby from a family member? Sure. Sitting and socializing? Nope. Rudeness is putting your own interests above those of the people around us.
posted by gjc at 5:05 PM on May 8, 2009

Basic table manners are so 2008.
posted by flabdablet at 5:07 PM on May 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Of course it's rude, if you say something about how you don't like it and she still does it.

If you don't say anything, it seems like a bit more ambiguous. I know people who roll like that, and I don't enjoy that micro-aspect of their social interactions, but that's how they are and it's accepted in their social circle(s).

Ironically, those people are generally the least important/plugged in/popular/connected people. The really important, plugged in, and connected people I encounter pay laser-focus attention to others. The ones who are always partly somewhere else are usually wannabees.

Now, yeah, sometimes there are emergencies (sister having a baby) or work crises that involve constant attention. So if you're in a position of having lunch with someone and having to check your phone Blackberry because of something really important, I think it's polite to say, "Gee, Tom, I need to keep an eye on {whatever}."

If you're checking your email to see if someone else wants to get together for a drink later, you're being an asshole to the person you're having lunch with unless that's an accepted interaction style between the two of you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:22 PM on May 8, 2009

The people saying it's rude and discourteous are today's getoffmylawnoldsters abjectly failing to recognize a cultural shift and a breed dying off almost as fast as the WWII veterans. The people that grew up texting will look back on questions like this and find the attitude laughably quaint

Many things go out of style... I find it terribly disheartening that you think the simple unit of human interaction, paying attention to the person who is physically present with you, will do so.

For the original poster... maybe your friend doesn't realize she's being an asshole? Next time she does it, simply suggest that you let her get back to her work and leave to carry on with your own business. She'll either get the message or she won't.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 5:36 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I do this to a moderate degree, varying based on my expectation of important emails coming in. The one thing I have never failed to do (I think?) is politely saying something along the lines of "I'm waiting to hear ____, sorry, do you mind?" And only at a lull in the conversation, of course. This is not anything special, but what the majority of my social group (low-20's college students, grew up connected) does.

I feel as if there are 3 scenarios.
1) Group hanging out - maybe at a bar after work, similar things. This is the least offensive for checking email, generally just wait until the conversation shifts away from you, check.
2) Small group/2 people hanging out, and a txt comes in. It's valid to check it, but one should apologize for the distraction and give an explanation, even a vague one.
3) Small group/2 people hanging out, checking for new messages. Should not be done. Set your phone to vibrate/chime. It's a fact of life to be expecting a message, but it's rude to be distracted by your anticipation (exceptions obviously apply for things like "my sister is due today, I'm waiting to go meet her at the hospital")

But like everyone else has said, if you haven't asked her to tone it down, your irritation is unfair. Politely ask her, she might not even notice what she's doing. It's not a crazy request.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:21 PM on May 8, 2009

It's rude.

I'm in my mid-thirties. When I was a teen and a young twenty-something I had a couple of friends (?) who would take personal phone calls and chat forever about nothing in particular with the caller while I was sitting right there twiddling my thumbs. I was always brought up to cut personal calls short, or ignore the phone, and tend to my friends and visitors.

People who text, email, or don't promptly end unimportant phone calls are clueless and self-absorbed in my book. It's one thing if she apologizes and excuses herself for a moment once in a blue moon but incredibly annoying and rude if she does it on a consistent basis.

Some people weren't raised right.
posted by Fairchild at 7:52 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you're behind the times because I'm way behind the times myself, but I would find it insulting. If Betsy can't spend an hour without checking her email, then she really shouldn't commit to spending time with friends face-to-face. Think of it this way: she's not really present, so it's kind of like hanging out with only half a friend. Personally, I don't think that Betsy is behaving like any friend I would like to have, but I'm getting the impression that what I envision true friendships to be will soon be a thing of the past, like cds and printed books. I do think you (and every like-minded person) deserve better.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:02 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just imagine it's 1988, and that the person I'm with is looking at their watch. A lot.
posted by ctmf at 9:04 PM on May 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's just different technology that can be used rudely or not.

Let's go back 50 years.

If two people are socializing, just them, and it is not practical to listen to music, someone has a pocket radio and a little one-ear headphone, wants to listen at noon because they're playing a new Elvis song for the first time. Fair enough. If the person is checking every three minutes for the Phrase that Pays... .

Let's go back further.

Two people are socializing, just them, and there's a stack of magazines. Someone flips through one during a lull in the conversation. Fair enough. If this is going on constantly or close... .

I s'pose you could take it back to cavemen, how much someone is playing around with cave paintings.
posted by ambient2 at 1:05 AM on May 9, 2009

Coincidentally, Miss Manners covers this very topic in her column today. So, you could just text your friend, "Hey, do you ever read Miss Manners? I thought this was interesting..."
posted by Houstonian at 4:59 AM on May 10, 2009

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