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Using Your Phone in Public: Etiquette, Safety, and Security Risks

Think Before Talking On Your Phone in Public places

Our phones go everywhere with us. Many of us treat our phones as an extension of ourselves. We use them for work, fun, social connections, information, and so much more. Whether you’re someone who prefers texting, scrolling social media, talking on the phone, listening to music, or simply having the ability to look up anything you need, there’s a good chance you’re on your phone a lot in public. 

Being on the phone may feel like a private conversation. But if you’re on the phone in public, there are a lot of people who can hear you!

If you need to take or make a call, it can be easy to think, “Well, I’ll just take care of this real quick,” no matter where you are. If you’re on the phone with a dear friend or family member, you may want to just keep chatting, even when you’re in public. 

Where is it okay to talk on the phone in public, and where is it risky? 

Well, it depends on what risks you’re talking about! There are different kinds of risks that accompany talking on your phone. For example, it can be physically risky to talk on your phone while walking in a busy city. You may be distracted enough to walk into traffic or fail to notice a safety hazard. But it can be socially risky to talk on your phone all the time while you’re out, annoying your friends! 

We’ve put together a list of places that you should think twice before making or receiving a phone call. And we’ve divided it into three categories: 

  1. Etiquette Concerns: Places where it goes against common courtesy to be on your phone
  2. Physical Safety Risks: Places where you are putting yourself or others in harm’s way by talking on the phone
  3. Cybersecurity Risks: Places where you are jeopardizing your personal data if you’re on the phone

Ready to learn about all three categories? If you’re talking on the phone in any of these places, you may want to rethink your habits!

You should take caution before talking on the phone in public

Etiquette Concerns

Talking on the phone can be in bad form, socially, if you are interrupting someone else’s peace or concentration. Etiquette is a subjective issue, as there are big differences between cultures, regions, families, and other settings. That’s also true when it comes to using phones in public. 

Something that is considered rude in one place might be just fine somewhere else. Similarly, you may do something which is fine in your day-to-day life at home, but is rude while traveling! 

This is not a list of rules where you can’t use your phone, of course. Rather, it is a list of places where you should take caution before talking on the phone because doing so may be a faux pas. 

Nice Restaurants

Taking phone calls in a restaurant diminishes the dining experience for both your own party and the people at the surrounding tables. Keep your phone on vibrate. If you have an urgent call, excuse yourself from the table. 

Public Transportation

Avoid loud phone conversations on buses, trains, or other mass transit out of courtesy. Fellow passengers don’t want to eavesdrop – or get stuck listening to your conversation. Checking messages or texts is just fine, but don’t get so absorbed that you miss your stop. Stay alert in busy stations for safety, too.

Salons and Spas

If there’s one way to ruin the peaceful atmosphere of a spa or salon, it’s having to hear someone else’s loud phone conversation. Patrons visit salons and spas to relax and recharge. Loud phone interactions ruin the ambiance, so don’t be “that person.” 

Weddings, Funerals, Baptisms, or Other Ceremonies

Not only is it a major faux pas to talk on the phone during special ceremonial events, but it can also be very hurtful to the marrying couple, the bereaved, or the family members in attendance at a special event. It’s inappropriate to take calls or texts at weddings, funerals, viewings, or memorial services. Silence your ringer and politely step out only for extreme emergencies. Be fully present to celebrate special occasions or grieve for losses. 

Co-Working Space & Coffeeshops

Co-working spaces are rarely silent, as people sometimes chat and talk as they work. However,  those in shared workspaces often need quiet to concentrate. Take calls in designated booth areas only so as not to disturb others’ productivity. You should also wear headphones for webinars and meetings if needed.

Movie Theaters 

One would think this is obvious, and yet many of us are accustomed to having our movie experiences interrupted by people talking on the phone! Talking disrupts and distracts other audience members trying to hear and enjoy the film. Keep in mind that texting is also a problem during movies; the noises and lights from your phone are distracting and frustrating to other movie-goers. 

Libraries & Quiet Study Spaces

Libraries aren’t as quiet as they used to be. In recent years, they have shifted from being quiet spaces to places where people can gather, interact, and learn. However, even libraries that have a lot more activity still prefer that patrons don’t hold loud phone calls in the building. 

It’s especially important to avoid talking on the phone in quiet rooms, study areas, or libraries that have posted quiet guidelines.

Physical Safety Risks

Moving onto our next category: sometimes it’s perfectly reasonable to use your phone in terms of etiquette, but it’s physically unsafe to do so. Our phones may distract us from serious safety risks, causing us to injure ourselves or others. 

Let’s review some of the things that are unsafe for you to do while using your phone. 

Driving

Talking on the phone while driving is extremely dangerous and causes thousands of accidents and deaths each year. It’s also illegal in many states. That said, even hands-free calling distracts you from focusing fully on the road. For everyone’s safety, finish calls before getting behind the wheel or pull over safely to continue an urgent conversation.

Walking (Especially in a City)

Your full attention should be on navigating sidewalks, crossing streets, and avoiding hazards like bikes, cars, damaged walkways, etc. while walking. Pausing mid-route to chat on your phone risks accidents and annoys fellow pedestrians who don’t want to overhear or walk around you. 

Flying in an Airplane

Phone signals at altitude have caused interference with navigation equipment, which is why airlines prohibit calls during flight, especially during take-offs and landings. Finish conversations before boarding or use the airline’s WiFi program to text or browse when it is permitted. 

Areas with Lots of Pickpockets

If you want to protect yourself and your property from pickpockets, don’t spend a lot of time on your phone when you’re in an area where there is a lot of pickpocketing activity. Instead, you should keep your phone in an inaccessible pocket in your clothing or a small crossbody bag, ideally under a layer of clothing.

Don’t discuss confidential company information in public areas where others could overhear, like coffee shops or airports

Cybersecurity Risks

The locations in our last and final category make the list of dangerous ways to talk on the phone because they pose a cybersecurity risk. Protecting your personal data is an important responsibility of everyone who uses a mobile device, and these are some general guidelines for avoiding a cybersecurity breach. 

Instead of specific places where you shouldn’t talk on your phone in public, keep these guidelines in mind for any public phone call, no matter where you are located at the time: 

  • Don’t discuss confidential company information in public areas where others could overhear, like coffee shops or airports
  • Never provide personal information like credit card numbers, SSNs, or passwords out loud where others may hear
  • Avoid talking about sensitive personal topics like health conditions or relationship issues over unencrypted connections
  • Don’t conduct work meetings on public calls that involve proprietary data or trade secrets
  • Wait until you’re in private to have banking or insurance conversations that involve account details, claims info, etc. 
  • Don’t argue with customer service over account access issues and inadvertently provide security answers/codes to anyone listening
  • Make sure you don’t discuss details of security systems, office layouts, passwords, or access codes, even vaguely, in public settings

Use Your Phone – But Stay Safe! 

Mobile phones have become deeply embedded in modern life through exponential advances in technology. However, developments in devices and infrastructure have outpaced etiquette and policies on their use. 

As we rely more on phones for almost everything we do, we need to have a better understanding of when and where phone calls are appropriate–and the risks that come with talking on your phone in public. 

By self-regulating phone use and considering others’ comfort and privacy, we’re taking the right steps forward in using technology without letting it cause damage to ourselves or others.

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