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Smart Devices: When Too Much of a Good Thing Turns Bad

alien holding a cell phone

Smart devices.

Do I think they’re great? Yes.

Do I think they’ve opened new, incredible ways to connect and communicate? Yes.

Although, too much of a good thing can turn bad.


Time and again, I’ve witnessed frustrated parents telling their kids to get off their cell phones—while clinging to their own. The rules we issue about excessive smart device usage—to adults and youth alike—often sound like: No cell phones at the dinner table! No cell phones after 10 pm! No cell phones in the classroom! No cell phones while I’m talking to you! Absolutely no cell phones in the bedroom!


Then the smart watch was introduced and became the new cool thing everyone had to have. These watches light up and vibrate to let the wearer know they have a call or text, and the only way for the wearer to know who the notification is from is to glance down at the watch. This isn’t something I thought much about until…

The Incident at the Vet

My husband and I have been taking our elderly dog—“Doc” Dr. Whiskers—to the same veterinarian for many years. One day, we brought him in for a checkup. Our vet joined us in the examination room, sitting cross legged on the floor to connect with Doc on his level. She petted his head, talking to him like he was a person and loving him like he was her own. She took her time with us and with Doc, and then began to tell a precious story about a dog that lived to be really old….


And that’s when my husband’s smart watch buzzed, prompting him to glance down in the middle of her emotional story.


He quickly put his hand over the watch in hopes she hadn’t noticed, but it was too late. Her face turned bright red with embarrassment, and she got up from the floor, apologizing for taking up so much of our time and talking too much. We wanted to die.


As we left her office, I realized that a good thing had turned bad

Smart Device Behaviors

I started watching folks with their cell phones and smart watches, continually doing the same thing to each other.

Do I think this smart device behavior is intended to hurt, disrespect, or make others feel like you aren’t listening to them? No. Do I think people have become unconscious with their obsessive use of smart devices? Absolutely!


Have you ever spoken to someone who holds their cell phone in their hand the entire time? Doesn’t this send a message that if the phone rings, they’ll answer it? Or that whoever might be calling is more important than you?

What about these smart device users?
  • The person who walks through the grocery store on speaker phone, discussing the previous nights’ escapades in great detail.

  • The “elevator chatter,” where you find yourself stuck between floors with an irate person on their cell phone, passionately telling off the person on the other end.

  • The person in the doctor’s office waiting room, phone volume cranked all the way up, watching their favorite movie.

  • The agitated real estate agent in a quiet bank, standing at a teller’s window and yelling over their cell phone about a deal gone bad—exposing dollar figures and buyers’ names—oblivious to the mortified teller trying to provide their service. (Yes, this happened while I was standing in line at my bank. Everyone in line rolled their eyes, looking at each other in disgust.) 

The sad part is this behavior has, more often than not, become the norm. I’m sure you could add more smart device stories to this list—stories in which your feelings were hurt, or had you feeling disrespected, or unheard.


Becoming A Better Communicator

As you may have noticed in my previous blogs, I don’t share my opinions without seizing a learning moment. So, what if we challenged ourselves to start practicing:


Smart Device Etiquette
  • Put cell phones in pockets, somewhere out of sight, or on silent (including vibrations!) when we are talking face to face.

  • If we’re waiting for an important call or handling an emergency, let them know in advance that a call may be coming in. Make a quick apology letting them know they are also important to you, then place your phone out of sight until the call comes in. Most people will understand this, since life has a habit of happening.

  • The dinner table is off limits for all devices. Put them on airplane mode if needed! This is a time and space to connect.

  • If you do need to take an important call, step outside. Keep your voice down or tell the caller you will call back when you’re in a better place to speak.

  • Don’t talk out loud—or on speaker phone—in an elevator, doctor’s office, grocery store, quiet banks, etc. Imposing your time and life on someone else is unacceptable; your space is not more important than theirs.

  • If you are speaking with someone, put your hand over your smart watch to silence it. If text or call sneaks in, ignore it until you are finished talking to the person in front of you.


Let’s all make an effort to apply smart device etiquette in our personal lives. Modeling this behavior encourages others to see that there’s another way to communicate effectively and make others feel important and respected. Let’s make smart devices a “good thing” again!


I would love to hear your ideas for other “Smart Device Etiquette” guidelines. Your feedback is important!
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1 Comment

Great article.. you covered all the bases! Thanks for addressing this important topic

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