Rules of connection: Who dictates etiquette on mobile device usage?

June 6, 2016
5 min read

I recently attended a friend’s wedding, and all eyes were fixated on the bride in her flowy ivory gown as she glided down the aisle.

Well, to be truthful, only most eyes were on her; the eyes of the gentleman in front of me were constantly cast down at sports recap videos that were playing on his iPhone. At the risk of sounding disgruntled, when it comes to using personal devices, is nothing sacred anymore?

As Mintel Trends has begun exploring, connectivity can do great things for our society, but the incessant usage of it begs the need for a new set of rules, not only on what is socially appropriate and polite but also on what is safe (Mintel Trend clients, see The Rules of Connection).

Surely, most people would agree that etiquette dictates putting one’s phone away when witnessing a marriage. But there are large gray areas, and consumers are split. According to a study from Pew Research Center, some 75% of US consumers say it’s generally OK to use their cell phones on public transportation, while 38% of US consumers say it’s generally OK to use their cell phones in restaurants.

To boot, the advent of smartwatches presents an entirely new layer of complexity to the conundrum. If I’m not holding the technology in my hand, but simply flicking through a screen on my wrist – does it count? Are the rules different?

With an overwhelming majority of US consumers using smartphones today, there is a strong need for help navigating the many gray areas.

Governments around the world step in

  • The Chinese government has rolled out a series of posters in metro stations across Shanghai to remind commuters to get off their phones and be more sociable. One of the billboards showcases a row of phone-addicted zombies glued to their screens while ignoring a mother carrying a child who clearly needs a seat. The text in the background reads “look up and help those in need.”
  • The city of Augsburg in Germany installed flashing red traffic lights in the pavement at tram stops to warn smartphone users of oncoming traffic. The action is meant to address the problem of people walking around using their phones and not looking where they are going.
  • Last July, the Russian government introduced safety guidelines for taking selfies in hope of reducing the number of injuries associated with them. The need for such guidelines is exemplified in cases like that of a 21-year-old woman who accidentally shot herself while taking a selfie holding a pistol. She suffered serious injuries, but survived.

Brands take the guesswork out of when to use devices

  • Mobile device repair retailer MLab installed text walking lanes in the streets of Antwerp, Belgium in a bid to separate smartphone users from other pedestrians. The lanes were designed to help reduce the number of smartphones dropped and broken as a result of people bumping into one another.
  • A campaign by Brazilian telecom carrier Vivo is encouraging consumers to use their mobile phones in a responsible way. Vivo’s new series of ads open a discussion around excessive connectivity and the risks involved in never switching off. They read: “Is an accident losing balance or missing a post?,” “What if the love of your life passes right next to you and you only have eyes for your cell?” and “Like or bike.”
  • In Germany, O2 has created a device that helps mobile phone zombies cross the street safely. The device uses beacon technology to send a warning to phone users approaching a street crossing, advising them to look up before crossing the road and potentially causing an accident.
  • Two Swedish advertising creatives have designed an unofficial road sign which depicts two figures looking at their phones while walking to warn motorists of smartphone users. The signs were put up across Stockholm recently and were met with approval from many of the city’s citizens – as well as the MTR, the organization that runs Stockholm’s subway system.
  • McCann Mexico’s latest campaign for GM Chevrolet urges people not to text drivers. It uses the slogan: “When you text a driver, you become the hazard.”

This conversation is certain to become increasingly louder as we move forward, opening up a space for consumer-brand interaction. Brands would do well to guide consumers with practical solutions and CSR initiatives to keep them safe. Additionally, consumers are likely to look favorably upon a brand who steps into the role of guidance counselor to provide gentle reminders and any sort of clarity around acceptable device usage in a particular space.

And if you see the gentleman from my friend’s nuptials at another wedding, let him know those videos will still be waiting for him after the ceremony.

Stacy Glasgow is a Consumer Trends Consultant at Mintel. Stacy joined Mintel in 2013 bringing with her an exciting blend of CPG, agency and marketing experience. Her time is spent traveling the US engaging clients across global CPG, Beauty and Financial Services in meaningful discussions around the consumer trends that will propel their businesses forward.

Stacy Glasgow
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