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By Larry Magid
This post first appeared in the Mercury News.

Tech is all around us, which is mostly good, but it can also lead to some not-so-good social interactions.

It’s bad enough when someone’s phone rings during a meeting or at a theater, place of worship or other public place, but now I’m seeing reports about people watching videos or listening to audio through their speakers in movie theaters. I’ve seen reports of fights breaking out in movie theaters because someone was watching a YouTube video while their fellow patrons were trying to concentrate on Barbie and Ken.

I often watch videos or listen to audiobooks on airplanes, but it wouldn’t occur to me to do so through my device’s speakers. Yet, I’ve read several reports about flight attendants having to remind passengers to silence their phones, laptops or tablets.

Cell yell

I can’t recall how many times I’ve had to listen to other people talking on the phone in public, loud enough to be heard several feet away. A few years ago, I overheard someone disclosing what seemed like confidential business information from his seat not far from mine at the San Jose airport.  Once, as I was walking through the first-class cabin on the way to my coach seat prior to take off, I heard someone who I recognized as a senior Silicon Valley executive angrily screaming into the phone.

Speaking of yelling, it’s not uncommon to hear people speaking very loudly on their cell phones, as if it were necessary to shout to be heard. Modern cell phones have very good microphones and it’s rarely necessary to raise your voice. This happens so often that there’s even a phrase for it, “cell yell.” The same goes for smart speakers like the Amazon Echo. In most cases, you can speak to them at a normal conversational volume.

I love the fact that you can use your cell phone in speaker mode and understand why some people might not want to hold the phone to their ear while going for a walk. But it can be annoying to others around you, so it’s better to use microphone-equipped earbuds or headphones. And you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars for Apple EarPods or other high-end devices. You can buy pretty decent wired or Bluetooth earbuds for as little as $15.

Even if you’re courteous enough not to listen to audio or speak loudly around other people, you might still annoy them if your phone is constantly beeping with notification sounds. If you get a lot of texts or other notifications, you might consider silencing them around others. And being “around others” includes when you’re on a remote video call.

Social isolation

While I don’t begrudge people using headphones or earbuds to make calls or listen to music while they’re out and about, I do recommend that you use them in ways that allow you to hear others around you. I often ride my bike on a shared cycling and walking path and have had situations when people were unable to hear me politely ask if I could pass.

And, admittedly, this is a pet peeve, perhaps akin to “get off my lawn,” but there have been occasions when I’ve needed walking directions from strangers whom I have been unable to speak with because they’re listening to music or talking on the phone. Of course, that’s their right, but sometimes I long for the days when people out in public were approachable and not ensconced in their own portable private bubble.

There are plenty of other things people can do with tech that annoy, irritate or inconvenience others, including texting or checking their phones during meals, at social events or in the middle of a conversation with someone. There’s a word for that too: “phubbing.” And it’s not just phones. Constantly looking at, talking through or responding to notifications on a smart watch also counts as phubbing.

There is overuse of the phone’s camera, which could include taking pictures of people without their permission and of course the overposting of selfies on social media, which can make you seem a bit narcissistic.

I get annoyed when I get an unsigned text message from someone who may not be in my contact list. News flash – I probably haven’t memorized your phone number, so if you’re going to send me a text, please identify yourself.

I also get annoyed when I’m one of many people on a text message and others keep sending and responding to messages that don’t involve me. There are ways to remove yourself from a group chat, but they’re not always easy or obvious, especially on Android phones. For tips, search for “remove yourself from group text.”

Speaking of texts,  some people — including me — make a lot of typos when trying to type on a phone screen. It’s a nice courtesy to proofread before you send. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but sometimes messages can be literally unintelligible. And if you get a message from me or others with typos, be forgiving. I make very few mistakes when using a computer keyboard, but rarely get through even a short text message without at least a couple of typing errors.

Learning the basics

As a bit of a tech expert, a lot of people, especially family members and close friends, ask me for tech advice. I don’t mind giving it, but I must admit that I do get annoyed when I get the same question over and over again. I don’t expect everyone to become tech savvy, but if you’re using devices, you should really spend some time learning how to do basic things like copy and paste, how to shut down or restart your device, update your software or connect to WiFi. In most cases you can easily learn how to do basic things by just searching for them preceded by “how to.” You’ll probably even find a video that walks you through.

In addition to sparing your loved ones and friends the trouble of having to show you or do everything for you, you’ll be more independent. Besides, if you don’t know how to turn on your phone, you might not even be able to call for help.

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