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Urban Etiquette: Street Smarts vs. Smartphones

by Borderstan.com September 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm 5 Comments

"Borderstan" "Smartphones" "Corcoran Street NW"

How smart are you with your smartphone? (Luis Gomez Photos)

Urban Etiquette runs biweekly with Borderstan contributor Mike Kohn writing about some common-sense rules of etiquette with an urban twist. We welcome your ideas for future columns.

From Mike Kohn. Email him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @mike_kohn.

Back in May, I finally gave in to temptation and retired my old flip phone (that I swear I got in 2009, even though walking around DC made me feel like it was as antiquated as the typewriter) and traded in for an iPhone. Yes, I’m obsessed with it. Who doesn’t love their smartphone?

In response, I can safely say that there isn’t a single person who doesn’t love their phone. Every person who owns a smartphone is so obsessed, in fact, that they cannot bear to put it down, no matter what they’re doing. Driving was hazardous enough as it was, but talking while driving caused accident rates to go up, and then texting and using apps while on the road just made it a whole lot worse. A slew of states have taken it upon themselves to pass laws about the use of phones while in the driver’s side.

Bringing it close to home, I’ve watched phone usage interfere with so many things in my day-to-day life. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of annoying times that I’ve noticed people who are consumed by the non-calling features of their phone:

  • Walking in the middle of the sidewalk without paying attention to other pedestrians. We’ve already gone over my feelings about this.
  • Stopping in the middle of the sidewalk or even the road (!) in order to make their Words with Friends move. I’m waiting for someone to get run over.
  • Texting at Safeway and not realizing that the next self-service checkout line is available even though everyone is telling them to go.
  • Taking up space on the escalator and not letting anyone else by. I’ve set it before and I’ll say it again — get out of my way or I will run you over.

Many of these things aren’t limited to smartphones, but because of their versatility, they present more opportunities to get lost in their amazingness. I’ll fully admit that I’m guilty of it — my punishment was running into a tree on 15th Street NW while responding to a text. So I will a little be that pot to you kettles out there and ask that you do a better job of noticing what else is going on.

If you have to stop to use your phone (and good for you for realizing you can’t type and walk straight!), pull over to the side of the sidewalk or at least finish crossing the street. It’s unrealistic to ask you to put your phone away (I know I can’t), but at least watch your surroundings and be ready to react.

Be smarter than your smartphone. I know you’ve got it in you.

  • Matt Raymond

    And as the MPD repeatedly points out, you stand a good chance of having your phone stolen and/or being mugged if your nose is buried in a text message.

    Such incidents are a high percentage of crimes in the neighborhood, and they are largely preventable if people are more vigilant about their surroundings (especially if they’re walking home drunk at night, when the chances of theft go up).

  • minnesota60

    About two weeks ago I was on 15th and was met by (a) three people on the sidewalk, one after the other, talking on their phones, (b)two bikers in the bike land, both on their cell phones and (c) a man getting out of his car while talking on his cell phone.

    You could have thrown a million bucks down and not one of them would have noticed.

  • Just some chick

    The obliviousness is definitely a problem, and part of a larger social menace. I am happy, though, that people have mostly stfu about their phones. The exclaiming and exclaiming over features was surely the most tedious aspect of this technology.

    I do worry when I see neighbors vaguely wandering around late at night, either yakking on the phone or perusing the screen. Total mugger-bait. Borderstan is pretty and quaint and seems so safe — but it’s really, really not.

  • ElTorro

    This isn’t street etiquette, but let’s not forget the people in line at Starbucks who NEVER get off their damned phones while ordering or waiting for their drinks. They treat the employees like they are invisible and get all pissy when the person at the counter has to “interrupt” them from their phone conversation to get their order. A-holes.

    • Alejo

      Thank you, cheers to that. That self righteousness makes my blood boil.

      How about: When in public space, freaking keep your volume at a minimum while conducting your personal conversation that I have been forced to be a part of. Some people out there blab so loud that it can be considered “noise pollution”.


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