I don't want to be "that guy": My personal guidelines for smartphone use

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Alissa
By: Ron BennettsCC BY 2.0

My reasons for resisting getting a smartphone aren't anything that will surprise you… People being unsafe because they're looking at their phones, checking phones in the middle of a meeting, looking at phones instead of talking to the friends across the table from you, etc. Smartphone addiction is definitely a thing, and as a person who already struggles with turning off the internet, surely having a whole computer in my pocket would be like an alcoholic living above a bar. Ultimately I was worried that getting a smartphone would affect my mindfulness and ability to be present when and where and with whom I am at any given moment.

To make a long story short, I have a smartphone now. I went fearfully into the transition, kicking and screaming. A month in, I've found that by setting some ground rules for myself I've been able to moderate my behavior. Below are Alissa's Personal Guidelines for Responsible Smartphone Use.

No phone use when there are IRL people to interact with

This guideline is most challenging for me not when I'm joking with my besties but when I'm waiting around in a group for the movie to start. I'm an introvert, and it's so easy to use my phone to check out of social interactions. But as a former brickphone user, I know it's also very rude to be in the middle of a conversation with someone and have them pull out their phone. I don't want to be that person.

No phone use when in a situation where the whole reason I am there is to pay attention

This is just a fancy way of saying don't pull out my phone to check e-mails in the middle of a meeting. Or in the middle of class. Or in the middle of church. In fact, unless there's a very specific reason I will need it, I try to not even bring my phone to these situations at all. I don't need the temptation to distraction.

No phone use outside

Besides the fact that walking-and-texting is unsafe, this is a mindfulness thing. If I'm outside, I want to remind myself to look at the clouds in the sky, listen to the sound of raindrops on the sidewalk, laugh at the funny bumper sticker on the car that drove by, notice how a chill makes goosebumps arise on my arms, or feel the warm sun on my legs. And also keep alert to watch for my bus.

(Tip: this guideline is aided by setting my screen brightness so low I CAN'T see it in the sunshine.)

No work e-mail on my phone

This is all about work-life balance. I love my job but want to leave my work at work. Plus, let's face it, I can't do my job effectively over the phone. "Can you schedule a meeting with X, Y, and Z?" From my desk, but not really from here. "How many customers did we see last month?" I need to pull up the files from the server to find out. I don't have the kind of role where people will die and my company will go under if I wait until I'm back at my desk to respond to an e-mail.

Embrace boredom

One thing I liked about brickphone life was learning to entertain myself in boring situations. Once in a doctor's office I tried to identify stuff I could see in the room beginning with each letter of the alphabet. (J was hard.) When I'm bored, I check myself before pulling out my phone. Can I just sit with this boredom for a while? Is there something else to entertain me instead? Ooo, a crummy magazine! Let's see which advertisement has the model with the fakest smile.

No phone use in the car

This one's pretty self-explanatory. It only takes a second of distraction to cause an accident.

Of course, there are exceptions

At dinner my friends and I were discussing a pretty house and we pulled it up on Google's satellite view on my phone. I take pictures of beautiful things I see outside, but I'll wait until later to upload them to Facebook or Instagram. And in some circumstances I may answer my phone in the car and put it on speakerphone.

I've discovered that by defining boundaries I'm no longer afraid of my smartphone and it taking over my life. I'm learning to enjoy it and benefits like looking up an address on the fly when I'm lost. Instagram is lots of fun. But getting the smallest data plan my service provider offered was also probably a good thing — just in case I start to get carried away.

  1. THIS SO HARD!!! I wish more people would 'not be that guy.'

    With the exception of 'embracing boredom' – bec. I find that is a perfectly valid & satisfying use of smartphones. I don't drive, so I take public transportation everywhere, & my iPhone is my music, my books, my notepad, my calendar, my email, my web surfing, my communications, my everything on the go. I have way too much time there to waste being bored — I'd rather write a grocery list, clean out my email inbox, listen to a podcast, read a blog (like OBH!), etc.

    • After reading this article I tried "embracing the boredom" a few times this past week, and it was actually nice! I definitely prefer to be more pro-active with my down time — reading, making lists, getting some work done, sexting that guy I married — but every now and then, I think "embracing the boredom" is nice to do.

    • I might also challenge myself to "embrace the boredom" every once in a while. But the main reason I pull out my phone for a few minutes in the waiting room, checkout line, etc. is that I can catch up on things like answering emails or reading the news. Then at the end of the day, I have more leisure time to relax with a book or movie because there aren't those little to-dos hanging over my head. I like being able to get stuff done in the little bits of downtime so that I have more big blocks of downtime to enjoy later.

      But there's definitely a limit and I try to be mindful of it.

      And can we just add a clarifying point to #1? I'm sure this is already part of your rules, but let's be clear: no using your phone when you're with a cashier, barista, or other person trying to PROVIDE YOU SERVICE. I've been a cashier, and it's soooo hard for us to do our jobs well (ask you about payment or bag options, inform you of the other services our managers expect us to mention, talk you through using the credit-card terminal) when people are on their phone. It's rude, it sends the message that we lowly cashiers are unworthy of your attention, and it results in you receiving worse service. You are not more important than us just because we're making minimum wage over here.

      Again, I know that 99% of people are well aware of this and are very considerate. But if you're in the 1% who doesn't realize how rude this is… please stop!

      • Oooo, I remember my days as a cashier. I would just ignore the fact that someone was on the phone and ask them all the things I had to ask them anyway.

        ALSO I would like it if I could walk up to a cashier these days and be served promptly instead of waiting for them to put down their phone and notice me. *shakes fist*

      • I was JUST going to make this comment. I've worked in food service my entire working life. It is incredibly insulting to be faced with someone who ignores you because they are on their phone. For the love of god, step out of line, finish your phone call/text, and come back when you're ready to acknowledge that I am not a vending machine.

    • I agree with you that I try to do all this except "embrace boredom." There are times when I like to sit and think, but I don't think it's inherently a bad thing to decide I'm bored, and want to read or do tasks on my phone. Also like you, I take public transit to commute, and if I didn't spend most of it reading, I'd sleep, which isn't exactly life-enhancing either ๐Ÿ™‚

      I strongly agree with the no phones while interacting with people rule, though

    • When we were kids, my mom would hand us magazines in the waiting room and tell us to find pictures of strawberries. Cool Whip and Jell-O ads were usually winners. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I just switched from a "dumb" phone to a smart phone a couple of weeks ago. The phone actually stresses me out! It feels so cruddy to be constantly connected.

    • I was born in the wrong decade. I still "lose" my dumb phone every couple of days. People know that it's more of an answering machine for me than a phone.

    • I was weirded out by the same thing when I got my first smartphone. But I've realized that I have complete control over how connected I am. I can choose to keep apps like Facebook or Gmail off of my phone, I can disable notifications and sounds, I can ignore calls or texts if it's not a good time to answer them.

      I use Facebook and Gmail on my phone, but I have turned off most "push" notifications so that I only see what's going on when I actually want to open up the app (and yes, there are some notifications that are hard to turn off, and I hate that). I don't need an instant phone notification every time someone likes my latest cat picture.

      I also am a fervent user of Gmail's tabs system and I only get a notification (and just a vibrate, no noise) when a message comes into my Primary tab. That's soooo much better than before the tab system when I got notified about every single message, like a payment reminder from my credit card or a Groupon offer. I still get a lot of Primary tab messages that aren't urgent, but it's a lot less disruptive than it used to be.

      • I think keeping high-volume things off your phone can be really good for keeping the stress low. Personally, I have my email, facebook and personal twitter account set to get notifications to my phone, but my other (higher-volume, more stressful) twitter account stays determinedly on the computer only.

        I always feel like I have to read/reply to stuff straight away or I'll forget – so keeping stressful stuff as computer-only has been really helpful.

        • I have all the apps, because in my circle of friends that's how we socialize. And I love always having a camera with me. But at the beginning setting everything up to stop buzzing at me every 2 seconds made me want to literally hide under the covers. So overwhelming!

  3. I still don't have a smartphone. I can play Candy Crush and listen to audiobooks on the bus perfectly well without a smartphone (I have a nook HD). It always amazes me how people who I thought wouldn't be "that guy" somehow always end up being "that guy" once they get a smartphone. These guidelines are great, and I'll keep them in mind if I ever give in. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Smartphones provide a socially acceptable way to avoid uncomfortable situations (the way reading a book in the middle of a family lunch never is – something I've been trying to do since age 8). I think that is what makes them especially tempting to extroverts (so many people to tag on Instagram!!) and introverts (when is this going to be over?) alike.

    • Now you mention discomfort: I have been wondering if being able to play with their phone might help people with social anxiety.

      I know an ex-smoker with very severe social anxiety and he said that the hardest thing about quitting was no longer having anything to do with his hands while standing talking, no focus to the interaction (ie. if you're together for a cigarette break then it's not necessary to choose between committing fully to the conversation or leaving, because you're doing something together) and nothing to do during the natural ebbs in chatting.

      Smart phones wouldn't be quite as "good" (!) for this as smoking, but they could help alleviate the sense of pressure. If someone is the person who doesn't know the rest of the group so well or is more tired or out of touch or whatever and therefore has less to say a smart phone could provide a way of getting through the time until they can contribute to the conversation instead of sitting staring at everyone unnervingly (or feeling like they are).

      (I know that someone in that position could be asking questions etc. but some people are crap at including the quiet person or the outsider in conversation by giving them a few words of explanation to help them get up to speed, they just are; it's not only introverts and socially anxious people who can lack social skills.)

      • Social anxiety sufferer here! Yes, the phone is immensely helpful. I tend to use mine in situations where I have to be in a crowded place, but not necessarily engaged (see- break rooms at work, airports, waiting for my order at a coffee shop, waiting for my husband/friends to get out of the bathroom after seeing a movie, etc.).

        I have rules for myself governing the usage: if someone does talk to me, I lower the phone and look at them for as long as I can. If I am at a party, rare as that is, or at dinner, I don't pull it out unless the situation calls for it- showing off a picture, getting a text from someone running late, googling the answer to the all important "was The Little Mermaid released in 1986 or 1989?!" type questions that tend to come up. But if the friends drift away, or I'm left alone for a moment, I'll allow myself a peek at the screen. It's nice to have something to fidget with.

        I am absolutely certain that this sort of re-centering that seems to happen when I zone out with my phone is possible without a device, but it works well for me. There are those of the "start conversations with random strangers around you! Take in the world!" variety, but that has never been me, and before the advent of phones, I had other tools, like books and notebooks and other things with which to fuss and comfort myself. For better or for worse, phones have become pretty universal, and nobody tends to blink at me funny if I check my texts for a few seconds.

  4. I admit, I kind 0f am "that guy" in that I'm totally addicted to my smart phone. It's a problem. I think the hardest part for me is that, like the author, I'm an introvert and it's just too tempting to have that handy excuse to avoid people and retreat into my portable computer screen.

    In some ways, I'm ok with using my phone as a crutch to cope with being a hardcore introvert in a world of constant and unavoidable social interaction–sometimes I really need that escape! But I should get better at only using it when I actually need it, and I love these suggestions for bringing a bit more balance into my relationship with my phone. Great article!

    • The whole introvert/extrovert dynamic and the internet really fascinates me. I'm an extreme extrovert who sucks at social media; my friends complain that I don't post enough. Even if I had a smartphone, I would probably never check it when I'm around other people.

    • I am the same way. I do try to put that phone away when I'm interacting with someone in person, but if I see them playing with their phone, I feel so relieved because it gives me an opportunity to do the same. If you're on Twitter or texting, I'll do it too!

      One thing I do try and do, however, is tell myself on the train home "okay, you're four stops away. Why don't you put your phone away for the rest of the trip?" It's hard but it is worth it for me to look up and just enjoy looking out the window for a while.

  5. I am also a dumb phone user. I feel like so many people are constantly connected to technology and I don't want to become that way. And, like maryr said, soooo many people become "that guy" when they make the leap. I'm sorry, but Reddit will still be there when you're in the privacy of your own home and not with your family that you only see a few times a year. I hope that folks read and embrace these tips; there's so much more to life than swiping through Facebook while you're out with friends.

  6. I'm a dumb phone holdout- in part because I don't think having the internet in my pocket would be a healthy thing for me. I know one of these days I'll sub-come and appreciate your tips for when I do.

  7. I was holding out for as long as I possibly could, but then my previously-awesome phone decided it wanted to throw in extra letters while texting even though I wasn't typing them, and then it wouldn't turn on…..the gods decided to make the decision for me.

    But, it opened an opportunity for me because as I gained a smartphone (through a prepaid plan at the lowest price), I also gained an internship with my church and now head up their social media communications. I turned this newfound hobby into something that I discovered I love.

    Now that I am connected most of the day, I still set limits. At night, I *have* to be doing something else that does not involve my phone. Eating at the table? No phones. Hanging out with my husband? No mindless scrolling. He is uber bad about it, and I try to crack a joke about it, but most of the time I will get up and leave the room to prove a point.

    It's been a great resource to have when I needed it, but I also realized that I don't have to be "that guy" if I'm aware of my actions.

  8. Gulp… am I "that guy"?!? I'm afraid the answer is yes! I'm a habitual breaker of a lot of these rules. I better work on that.

  9. I have one friend who never puts her phone down….games when we're out to eat, instagram and pinterest while we're talking , facebook while we're out shopping….

    that said- I love this article! I think we can all relate at least a bit.

  10. I am holding out with a dumbphone as long as I can. I may eventually get a smartphone if I have to, but I'd rather have an AARP-endorsed phone. A few months ago, my beloved Motorola flip phone died, so I bought the same model on ebay. I got myself a newish (1 year old) used Kindle Fire tablet for xmas/boxing day. I mainly use it for reading articles or ebooks on the train. It has wifi, so can be connected when not at a computer, but most of the time, it lives in my bag. I get frustrated when friends or my husband are paying more attention to their smartphones than what is happening in front of them.

    I cannot take your advice of embrace the boredom. The inside of my head is a dark and scary labyrinth, and I get lost and confused when I'm left there alone for too long. I need to read a book or write out my thoughts or watch whatever is playing on the tv or talk to the random stranger near me. I can enjoy nature for a short period of time as my senses embrace it. Just a few days ago on my lunch break, I watched a goose for about 10 minutes. If there is a chance I will have any downtime not surrounded by friends/family, I will always bring a book and/or my Kindle.

  11. I greatly dislike how connected my sisters are with their phones. When I see them, I try to remind them "hey, I see you every two years, for only a few days, and I'd love to spend time with you. Could you pay attention to me when we're together?"

  12. I understand where you're coming from, but I really just don't agree that smartphones are an inherent temptation to be avoided. Of course people can use them to be rude and dangerous, but "dumb" phones fit that bill just as well. Texting while driving is not a problem unique to smartphones, and neither is people not knowing when to hang up and interact with the people around them.

    I'm actually thrilled to be able to have work email on my personal phone – I love my job, and even if it's not something that requires any action on my part, I like knowing what's going on and feeling like I start each day without having to catch up on what happened since I left the day before. I don't understand why non-digital distractions or just sitting there bored are more valuable than using that time to catch up on the news, read some recipes, whatever you're interested in. Crummy magazine advertisements are not a better use of my time than reading a book with the Nook app, catching up on my favorite blogs, or even surfing Wikipedia. At least Wikipedia will usually teach me something.

    Besides all that, I think it's pretty amazing that technology has come so far that we all carry around these super powerful computers in our pockets that are always connected to the entire internet. Just think about all the things you can do now from your smartphone that before you would have to wait until you got home, sit in front of your computer, and take care of! Paying bills/managing finances, making grocery lists, looking up weather/traffic conditions, staying in touch with my aunt who's traveling in Israel, heck, even looking up little bits of trivia that bug me until I know the answer. I just think it's super cool to always have the internet and everything it includes at my fingertips, and I really believe it makes my life better, not worse.

  13. I'm surprised to read that so many other people are holding out with their dumb phones – I thought I was the only one. There are a lot of reasons I don't want one, mostly related to watching how my family members use theirs. My 71-year-old mother recently got a smart phone, and now has a tendency to pull it out and start texting while we're talking over lunch. I try to point out that it's okay if she doesn't write back immediately, but it hasn't had an effect. I try not to let it bother me, but it kind of does.

    Other perks, for me: downtime while I'm out and about is prime knitting time. Also, not being able to immediately look something up means my husband and I discuss and debate and try to figure things out ourselves, which is fun. And gratifying when we solve the problem on our own!

  14. So, as a bartender and server I will IGNORE YOU if you are on your phone. Oh, you want two lemon drops? Put your phone down. You want to ask a question about the menu while dishing about your day to your absent bestie? Not gonna happen, put down the phone. And those are the same people who will be peeved that you didn't rush over when they wanted something, while they were on their phone. Have some manners.

    • While I agree that it's bad manners to ignore anyone because of your phone, I think it's just as bad to neglect your job because the person paying you isn't adhering to the standards of behavior that you think they should.

  15. I was a smartphone early adopter, and I love smartphones, but I still feel these are good rules.

    There are social ways to use a phone in social settings – looking at a map together, or a picture of something we're talking about, or using the camera to take a picture – so those are alright with me. But, otherwise, if you're in a group … no e-mail. No twitter. If it's not something I'm reading to or showing to the folks with me, it's off the table. Especially in the car. If my partner's driving, I don't use my smartphone in the car as a passenger. He can't look at twitter while he's driving so I shouldn't either, especially if it means I basically get to escape the long ride and go to Private Internet Land without him while he's doing the actual work of driving. Rude!

    The doctor's office is not the place I embrace boredom but the idea is a good one. But there are places worth being present in, to me, even if they're boring. Trains. Unusual places for you to be. Even if they're quiet, and have wi-fi, if they aren't somewhere you spend a lot of time going "ugh, so bored, get me out of here" (which is the doctor's office, for me), look around. You never know. If I have to get the phone out, because I'm really dying of boredom, I try to create instead of consume: draw something, write something. There are better times to feed the part of your brain that eats tweets.

  16. My husband dragged me into getting a smartphone. I gave it a year, and I still hated it. So I just went back to a flip phone. I hated texting on a touch screen, and I hated how I couldn't stop myself from getting online when I was supposed to be interacting. It drives me nuts when my husband plays games during visits with friends or on our dates. I don't want to add to the problem by checking work emails while we wait for our food!

  17. It seems like there are lots of other dumb phone holdouts. The main reason I kept a phone with real buttons to press was for safety. When I was in high school I learned about all these girls who were saved from assault/rape/kidnapping because they could secretly dial 9-1-1 by feeling for the numbers on their phone, and then the operators could hear what was going on. Some particularly smart girls would even ask their abductor questions about what was going on, and say things like "We're on Main Street, where are we going?" "You're a stranger, who are you?" etc. I was afraid that could happen to me, and I could be well-prepared by having a phone I could use without looking at it in an emergency.

  18. I love the section on "embrace the boredom". I am a firm believer that enjoying quiet time and waiting patiently are both skills. I enjoy occasionally flexing my "waiting" muscle by not reaching for my smartphone when I'm waiting in line, waiting for an appointment, etc. I slow down and focus on the feeling of breathing, the colors of the room, the people nearby. I feel more engaged and aware when I take time to quietly absorb and digest the world around me.

  19. My most important rule is:

    NO PHONE IN THE BEDROOM.

    The bedroom is for sleeping and sex and sometimes breakfast, and I need to keep this one room free of tech gadgets (especially since I don't always sleep well). No TV either. Just books.
    Using the phone as an alarm clock is ok, though all other beepy things need to be turned off.

    It's helping me to sleep better and to feel a sense of peace and calm as soon as I enter the bedroom, and it's been helping my work-email-addict husband to wind down, too.

  20. I work in a public library and I'm always amazed at how many people have a loud ringtone and then carry on a loud personal conversation while everyone around them
    is listening. And the folks in the public bathroom on phones. Really.

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