When Is It Acceptable To Check Your Cell Phone?

August 31st 2015

Laura Donovan

There are a lot of—often strong—opinions about when it is socially acceptable to use your phone, according to new information from the Pew Research Center.

The findings reveal that 92 percent of Americans own cell phones, and with this comes greater tolerance and acceptance for others pulling out their phones in public. But even though cell phones are universal among Americans, the Pew published data on when respondents feel it isn't acceptable for others to be on their devices.

Surveying 3,217 adults, 3,042 of whom use cell phones, the Pew found that people are most averse to the idea of others using their cell phones at church or in a place of worship, with 96 percent of survey participants saying this is "generally not OK." Ninety-five percent of people also said it's not OK to talk on the phone at the movies, and 88 percent said phone usage at the dinner table is a no-no.

When it is and isn't OK to be on your phone

According to the findings, people are generally OK with phone usage when a person is engaged in independent activity. Seventy-seven percent of participants are OK with people using their phones walking down the street, 75 percent are fine with it on public transit, and 74 percent of people tolerate phone usage while waiting in line. Just a little over the majority of participants say it's generally not OK to use one's phone at a restaurant.

Cell phone use in social settings.

While it's common for people to take photos and post them on various social media platforms during group interactions and hangouts, 82 percent of respondents say phone usage in this particular social setting frequently or occasionally hinders the experience. Thirty-three percent of respondents, however, say that phone usage in this kind of setting can often contribute and enhance the conversation. Respondents over 50 are more likely to think phone usage ruins the moment than their younger counterparts.

For the most part, almost everyone is using their phones in social gatherings. Nearly 90 percent of participants report using their phone at their most recent social gathering, and 86 percent report someone else in the group using the phone during the meet up:

Phone usage in social settings

Why people use their phones in social settings.

According to the Pew, 16 percent of participants reported using their phone due to being no longer interested in the group, 15 percent sought to reach out to those outside the group, and 10 percent didn't want to participate in the group's current discussion. Nearly half of participants report using their phone to post a photo or video of the social event, and 31 percent used their phone to reach out to people acquainted with the group but not at the gathering.

What too much phone usage does to you.

As ATTN: previously reported, the average person checks their phone 110 times a day, and according to digital analytics firm Flurry, those who with access to a smartphone or tablet spend almost three hours on them each day. Smartphones have become an integral part of daily life for many, so it's not entirely surprising that a lot of people bring them into social settings and gatherings.

Earlier this year, a viral video called "Look Up" highlighted the loneliness that can arise from being too connected to social media and smartphone devices and relayed the importance of being present and able to "turn off" in everyday life:

Aside from creating rudeness in social settings, too much phone time can be damaging to one's health. Research has shown that screen time before bed can cause someone to have trouble falling asleep and feel groggy the following morning. Screen time can also lower a person's melatonin levels, which can increase one's risk of getting breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. All the leaning over from cell phone usage has also created the "text neck" phenomenon, which is hurting our posture.

Dr. Phil Hagen, who works in the Division of Preventive, Occupational and Aerospace Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., previously told ATTN: that the long-term postural issues young people face often stem from our ability to maintain imperfect posture for long periods of time. This can result from too much time staring at our phones.

"Because young people are capable of pretty intense focus, they may do that for hours," Hagen said in June. "Since the spine is not in its neutral position, it tends to put a little stress on the spine, which puts pressure on things like the discs in between the spine and on some of the muscles and ligaments. It's not that they're doing damage, it's just that they're going to cause pain because they're holding [themselves] in that fixed position and that causes inflammation."

Phones can also carry germs: the average cell phone is almost twenty times dirtier than a public toilet and one in six iPhones contains fecal matter on it. Though many people are known to place their cell phones on the table at meals with friends, this fact might make you think twice about busting out your device at Sunday brunch.