I can't believe I have to post on this topic. Mobile phones are not new, people should have gotten over the "gee whiz" factor and remembered some basic rules of courtesy. Apparently not. People's current stupidity seems centred on Bluetooth (wireless) earpieces but I see plenty of examples of people being downright morons without an earpiece.
I was prompted to write this after reading an article in the Washington post titled "A tough call - invisible phone or invisible friend" which includes interviews with a couple of morons who think they are cool, switched on, cutting edge but are in fact ignorant fuck-knuckles. It's a shame the WP was beaten to the punch by a couple of months by a fairly unfunny newspaper comic who used the punchier line "hands free or off her meds?"
So for the etiquette-challenged, here are some common sense rules for using mobile phones in general and earpieces in particular.
Rule 1: Don't be a moron. This is really the only rule that is needed but clearly some people need an explanation of what behaviour qualifies them as a moron. Simply put: any person you are with, face to face, is more important than any person on the phone. You are already with a person who is physically there. You do not have to answer the phone. Wrap your head around that. You. Do. Not. Have. To. Answer. The. Phone. Which brings me to the next rule, the primary one for earpieces.
Rule 2: Only use an earpiece when you need your hands free. Driving is pretty much the only activity that I can think of that justifies this. Assuming you are not incapacitated in some way, use your fucking hands to answer your phone. The earpiece is not required to be "always on". The earpiece does not make you look cool, important or in control. When used unnecessarily, the earpiece makes you look like a fucking dork. And people hate you for using it.
Rule 3: If you're going to ignore rule 2, when wearing an earpiece, don't have it set to "auto pick up". For those who haven't inflicted one of these devices on themselves, most of them have a setting where instead of doing anything to pick up a call you can set them to "push" a call to the earpiece automatically. There's no ringing, no warning to an outsider. The wearer hears a beep in the earpiece and they start talking. Don't do this. EVER. This is amongst the rudest behaviour imaginable. The action of stopping a face to face conversation mid-sentence with no warning to start talking to someone who isn't there marks you as a fuckwit of the highest order.
So, let's pretend you're intelligent enough to follow the first three rules. When you're in public you have your phone with you and it's going to ring sometimes. You are not going to use your earpiece unless your hands are 100% unavailable. What etiquette do you follow?
Rule 4: Be polite. Defer to people around you ahead of ANY incoming calls. If you are talking to someone when your phone rings say something simple like "excuse me" and check the display to see who's calling. If there's a reason to take the call, apologise before doing so. The call is an interruption, treat it as such. Keep it short. Get over the idea that things always have to be done now. Tell the person you will call them back. Better yet, don't answer the call and let it go to voicemail. You don't have to be contactable 24 hours a day. The person on the phone has no idea why you can't answer, let them assume it's because you're doing something important. The person you're with has no doubt when you're being a rude piece of shit.
Rule 5: Some workplaces ban mobile phones. I think this is stupid but it pays to impinge as little as possible on cow-orkers. Don't have a loud, obnoxious ringtone. Ideally have your phone set to vibrate. And take your mobile with you whenever you leave your desk. Personally, I'm not going to answer a call while I'm in the toilet but I'm not going to leave my phone at my desk when I go either. There's nothing more annoying in an office than an unattended mobile that rings and rings and rings. What part of mobile don't you understand?
Rule 6: When you are having a conversation on a mobile phone in a public place be aware of the people around you. If someone else started telling strangers intimate details of your life, you'd strangle them. Why the fuck would you do so yourself? For fuck's sake, just because the people around you can't hear the person you're talking to doesn't mean they can't hear you. And trust me, nine times out of ten they don't want to know the details of your sex life. And never argue on the phone in public. I have had several experiences of people screaming and bursting into tears in public while on their mobile. It's fucking weird. Don't do it.
A corollary of this rule goes out mainly to teenage girls. Don't have squeally conversations that consist of nothing but meaningless phrases like "He didn't! No! Get out! Oh my god! Oh no she didn't! Ewwww, as if! Shut up!" I've lost count of the times I've fought down the urge to enforce the "shut up" exclamation by jamming their fucking mobile down their fucking throat. I was going to limit this rule to mobile conversations in public but it deserves wider enforcement.
Don't have conversations like that ever.