Social Norms They Are a-Changin': New Pew Report Looks at the 'Always On' Life

Ollie Millington/Redferns

The crowd watch as Tinie Tempah performs on stage during day 1 of The Ultrasound Music Festival at Tamworth Castle on September 3, 2011 in Tamworth, United Kingdom.

Kids these days. A new study finds that young adults are generally more tolerant than their elders of whipping out mobile phones in certain social settings, like on the bus or in church, and that they're more likely to use the devices to coordinate plans, catch up with friends or just to avoid interacting with others.

It a survey of 3,217 Americans, the Pew Research Center explores the phenomenon of "always-on" mobile connectivity, finding that more than nine out of 10 U.S. adults now have a cellphone and that of the 90 percent who keep their gadgets with them, 45 percent say they rarely turn it off. Eighty-nine percent said they used their phone during a social gathering.

Those surveyed found it to be generally OK to use phones while riding public transportation (75 percent) or waiting in line (74 percent), but not so much in a restaurant (38 percent), at a family dinner (12 percent) or while taking in a church service (4 percent). Break out 18-29s, however, and the numbers are higher. Tweeting while strap-hanging (90 percent), waiting in line (86 percent), dining in public (50 percent) -- or with family (16 percent) -- and in a house of worship (9 percent) show young adults are generally more accepting.

The survey also found that young adults are more likely to use their phones for a wide array of reasons while in a public place or social setting. More than half use their phones to figure out where they’re going or to post something on social media; 35 percent look at their phones “for no particular reason”; and 13 percent said the device comes in handy when you just want to ignore someone.

Even with all that, the study finds that 82 percent of people believe cell use in a social setting is bad etiquette and that it essentially hurts conversation. Only 33 percent believe ii contributes.

"This 'always-on' reality has disrupted long-standing social norms about when it is appropriate for people to shift their attention away from their physical conversations and interactions with others, and towards digital encounters with people and information that are enabled by their mobile phone," said Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center. "These are issues with important social consequences. Norms of etiquette are not just small-scale social niceties. They affect fundamental human interactions and the character of public spaces."

The full report can be found here.


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