Oi you! Is your mobile phone making you rude?

Summary:From stall calls to texting the boss - what does always-on connectivity mean for comms and etiquette?

From stall calls to texting the boss - what does always-on connectivity mean for comms and etiquette?

Businessman on BlackBerry

More than a third of UK adults describe themselves as "highly addicted" to their handsetsPhoto: Shutterstock

In the second of a series of articles examining the impact of technology on our society and ourselves, silicon.com's Natasha Lomas explores the behavioural changes brought about by mobile phones.

The evolution of mobile phones from the expensive, aspirational bricks of the 1980s, owned by the few, to today's pocket-sized handsets owned by almost everyone is both technology success story and social phenomenon.

While smartphones have a way to go to achieve global penetration levels witnessed by the more common or garden mobile phone, adoption is growing.

Research conducted by UK telecoms watchdog Ofcom earlier this year flags the rising use of smartphones among adults and teenagers - with more than a quarter (27 per cent) of adults and almost half (47 per cent) of teens now the proud owner of a smartphone. The majority (59 per cent) had acquired their smartphone in the past 12 months.

These powerful pocket PCs put all the functionality of the internet in our hands and its data at our fingertips, keeping us connected to everyone else and everything else. This always-on connectivity seems likely to have profound implications for society - the question is, how exactly is it shaping us?

The answer will surely remain elusive in the short term. It took hundreds of years for historians and sociologists to deconstruct the impact of the printing press. The internet - and the mobile internet - simply hasn't been around long enough to quantify how it will affect us.

But signs of mobile-induced behavioural changes and shifting social norms can be traced. Certainly technology is elbowing its way into our lives, from the dining room to the smallest room, breaking down conventions and social compartmentalisation in the process.

Ofcom's Communications Market Report describes how smartphone users are interacting with their devices in situations where other technologies might not have been available or practical - in toilets, at the dinner table, in bed, while out socialising.

This ability to be always connected has had another side-effect on our behaviour too: the report notes the divide between work and home life is increasingly blurred, thanks to connected gadgets that keep us informed of office minutiae even when we're supposed to be relaxing elsewhere.

Smartphone users are more likely to take part in work calls on holiday, according to the research, with a whopping 70 per cent saying they have done so. Around a quarter of smartphone users say they do this regularly, compared to 16 per cent of common-or-garden mobile users.

Every CIO can tell you about consumer mobile devices ending up in the office - but hardware is the half of it: our mobile tools are mixing our communication conventions too.

According to business etiquette consultant Jacqueline Whitmore, digital technologies such as smartphones are putting pressure on business communications to be less formal - even if older execs are not as relaxed about getting a pitch via SMS or an emoticon-ridden email as Gen Y'ers are.

"The way in which we communicate is becoming less formal but that doesn't mean the rules [of etiquette] are changing," she says. "The rules have stayed the same; people are just not observing the rules. They're forgetting the rules or they're just not learning the rules.

"I see more people using text messaging to communicate with clients now, whereas five years ago you wouldn't think of texting a client because it just wasn't the way - that was something you did with friends but now it's becoming more acceptable with all the smartphones, like the iPhone, which have made it so easy for us. But that still doesn't...

Topics: Mobility

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