Celliquette for Seniors: Where Do You Draw the Line?

erica-manfred2When it comes to using cellphones, everyone has an opinion on what’s good manners and what’s bad.  This week, Erica gives you the Aging With Geekitude take on celliquette. Where do you draw the line?

My friend Loni and I were eating lunch recently when we noticed six college-age boys at the next table, all riveted to their phones, totally ignoring each other. They didn’t look up once during entire the meal.

Trying to get the attention of kids while they’re on their phones or devices is a lost cause. If young people think it’s OK to ignore each other, it’s hard to expect them to pay attention to us.

But what about people our own age?

I spent a day recently with Lydia, whom I’ve known for 30 years. The last time we got together she ignored me repeatedly to answer calls, chat with her husband, make travel plans and Google theater websites looking for cheap tickets.

Now, I’m in love with my phone myself, but I try to only check emails and Facebook when I’m on the can. I admit it, I may take a few extra bathroom breaks, but at least I’m discreet. As for Lydia, I didn’t say anything to her for fear of seeming uncool, but I was really pissed. I make allowances for hot dates and emergencies, but not theatre tickets and casual chats.

Cyberetiquette is a big topic in today’s media – for parents of teens. But while parents and kids are all wrapped up with cyberbullying and sexting, we’re still trying to figure out if it’s rude to keep talking on your cellphone when you get to the checkout counter.

We need to adapt to the times, but how, and how much?

Here are my personal guidelines.


Celliquette Basics


  • If you don’t have a cellphone, get one. According to the Pew Internet Research Project, 26 percent of people over 65 don’t even have cellphones. I know some of these people and have tried to reach them in emergencies. Lack of money shouldn’t be an excuse. Low-income seniors have access to lifeline cellphones (click here to learn more.)
  • Take your cellphone with you and remember to TURN IT ON. It’s not much use if a friend needs to find you in a crowded mall and it’s off. Young people have their cellphones glued to them at all times, but we’re still adjusting to a world where we can be reached 24/7.
  • Give your friends your cell number so they can actually call you.
  • Use a provider that actually provides reliable service in your area. I reluctantly gave up T-mobile because they were so spotty where I live.


Don’t Be a Cybercurmudgeon


  • Get used to listening to one side of the conversation. People talking on cellphones in public places is the way of our world. The practice is not going away no matter how much it annoys you. I eat out alone a lot and I figure that I have a right to talk to a friend over lunch just like people who have actual humans to talk to. However, if it’s late and you’re on a bus or train and the lights are out and people are snoozing, you shouldn’t be surprised if someone complains about your celliquette.
  • Stop kvetching in theaters.  I get it, you should turn off your cellphone because there really is nothing more annoying than a phone ringing during a show. But I sure don’t want to be that cranky old lady reprimanding a young person who’s texting. I really don’t get how the light from a cellphone is all that distracting in a movie theater unless it’s right next to you. I got yelled at recently – by an irate old lady – because I had my cellphone flashlight on during the previews. As it happens, I was helping my friend figure out how to use the headphones the theater provided for the hard of hearing.


Get With the Program


  • Learn how to text. It’s really not hard if you have a smartphone. (If you have one of those old flip phones where you have to press three letters to get the right letter, God help you, no one else will.) Texting has the advantage of providing a written record of a message so that you don’t forget it. Texting is also a handy, non-invasive way of reaching someone when it’s late and/or you know they’re in a meeting.  And, like email, it’s a good way to “talk” to someone you don’t feel like talking to and gets you off the hook without having a confrontation. Caveat: Do not break up with anyone by text message. Young people actually do this. It’s the equivalent of Carrie getting broken up with on a Post-it note in one of my favorite “Sex in the City” episodes.
  • Don’t be rude like your kids. Young people casually break dates at the last minute because they have cellphones and think it’s OK to take a better offer. We’ve been around long enough to know this is rude. But if you do have to break a date because you got an offer you really couldn’t refuse, at least come up with a decent excuse, like “I got a call from the hospital.” Be vague. You don’t have to say which hospital or who’s in it. You could text your excuse, but that’s really the kid’s way out. Grownups pick up the phone and call.
  • Use your cellphone strategically. For instance, since cellphone reception is always fading, if you say “you’re breaking up” a few times and then hang up, you’re off the hook when asked who’s in the hospital. Lack of reception covers a multitude of cellphone sins.

What are your cellphone etiquette dos and don’ts?
Erica Manfred is a journalist, essayist and humorist who writes about everything from dentistry to divorce to fantasy fiction. Friend her on Facebook.


8 responses to “Celliquette for Seniors: Where Do You Draw the Line?

  1. Add to Celliquette Basics:

    * Know that your voice is much louder than you realize when you’re talking on your cell phone, so lower it a few decibels. Really.

    * Don’t be a distracted cell phone user in public.Talking or texting in a crowded public place makes you vulnerable to someone grabbing your phone (and/or your purse).

  2. For people who don’t qualify for Lifeline or want to get a Smartphone but don’t have much money there are cheap plans. I have Boost Mobile, pay a flat rate, no contract with unlimited text, phone and data for $50 per month (with reduced rate after paying on time after 6 months). You can also check out MetroPCS. There are others as well but I don’t know how good they are.

  3. Another thought: It irritates me when people get calls while we’re together. I remember writing a customer service piece for a magazine once and the cardinal rule was when a business gets a call, and they have a customer in front of them, call the caller back because the customer in front of you is what’s important. They are a paying customer and should get your undivided attention. I think cellphone calls while you’re with someone else should be under the same rule. I think it’s rude to sit on a cell call while you’re with a friend or associate unless it’s an Emergency call.

  4. I’m one of those “God help me cause no one else will” people with a flip cellphone. When I go to AZ I plan to modernize but for now, anyone can get me on my landline at home! Which brings me to my next question–which cell phone is the best for the bucks? Did you already write on that topic or not? Your column cracks me up. You have a delightful sense of humor in your writing.

    1. Thanks for the compliment Dianne. Right now you can get a great phone–a Samsung Galaxy S3–the one I happen to have–on Ebay for around $100 – $150. Maybe less. It’s a great phone, cheap now because Samsung has issued the Galaxy S4 and S5. Go for it. Get a prepaid plan with it to save on the monthly charge.

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