Mobile device etiquette keeps going down the drain, survey finds

U.S. adults report increased use of smartphones for talking, texting while driving or in many public areas, including restrooms

Poor etiquette by mobile users is rampant and getting worse every day as use of smartphones and other wireless devices continues to mushroom, according to an Ipsos survey of U.S. adults.

The survey found that 75 per cent of the 2,000 adults surveyed believe mobile manners have worsened since 2009. And more than 90 per cent said they have witnessed first-hand poor mobile behavior -- activities ranging from texting while driving or walking to talking on a mobile phone in a public restroom.

Some 19 per cent of the repondents admitted having poor mobile habits themselves, but continued such activities because others were doing the same thing.

The survey, sponsored by Intel, was conducted from Dec. 10, 2010 to Jan. 5, 2011.

Intel, which makes processors that are used in some mobile devices, said the survey is part of its research into how people use technology to drive innovation. The company sponsored a similar survey in 2009.

Genevieve Bell, an Intel fellow who heads up research into human interactions and experience at Intel Labs, noted that because mobile technology is still fairly new, "it's no surprise that people still struggle with how to best integrate these devices into their lives.

"New digital technologies are becoming a mainstay in consumers' lives, but we haven't yet worked out for ourselves, our families, communities and societies what all the right kinds of behaviors and expectations will be," Bell added. The survey also found that:

  • U.S. adults see an average of five mobile "offenses," including the use of mobile devices while driving or talking loudly on a mobile phone in public, every day.
  • One in five adults admit to checking a mobile device before getting out of bed in the morning.
  • Of the 91 per cent of respondents who reported seeing offenses, 56 per cent saw car drivers using a mobile device, 48 per cent saw people using one in a restroom, 32 per cent saw them used in movie theaters and nine per cent saw the devices used by people on a honeymoon.
  • Nearly 25 per cent of U.S. adults say they have seen a person use a laptop computer while driving.

The survey relates to a theme raised by some communications executives at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona recently.

On one panel there, executives cited how smartphones and similar devices can constantly interrupt our lives , keeping our attention on the devices instead of on friends, family and co-workers.

"We're starting to live in a world of interruption technology -- isn't anybody questioning this?" said MWC panelist Hampus Jakobsson, director of strategic alliances at BlackBerry smartphone maker Research in Motion. He is the former head of TAT, an interface design company acquired by RIM last year.

In response to a question on how RIM might reduce interruptions, Jakobsson suggested BlackBerry devices perhaps shouldn't run games that demand close attention from users.

Panelist and AT&T CTO John Donovan added that mobile devices have become the "serial interrupters" of modern society. "We owe it to the industry to restore simplicity where interactions and productivity are balanced," he added.

Elsewhere, Microsoft picked up on the theme of bad phone behaviors in a series of TV ads for its Windows Phone 7 devices.

The commercials lament the way typical smartphones can prevent people from engaging directly with others, and suggesting that the interface on WP7-based phones will allow tasks to be completed swiftly and thus let users more quickly get back to communicating directly with families and co-workers.

An Intel spokeswoman said the is not looking to prescribe a right or wrong way to use mobile technology by releasing the results of the survey. "We want to understand how people use and want to use their technology. It's an important part of our future product planning process," said spokeswoman Jessica Hansen.

She said Intel isn't aware of an industry group devoted to mobile technology etiquette despite the comments made at MWC and the Microsoft ads.

Intel, however, did quote tips from etiquette expert Anna Post.

In general, Post suggests that mobile users "be present ... [and] give your full attention to those you are with ... in a meeting or on a date."

Post also suggests that users stop and consider whether it would be best to postpone a call or to move away from others when talking, texting or e-mailing from a mobile device. She also suggests talking with family, friends and co-workers about setting ground rules for mobile device use.

Finally, Post said she believes that some places, such as restrooms, are private and should remain free of mobile device use.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen , or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.

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