It’s hard to imagine a time before smartphones, social media, and YouTube. If you’re a ’90s kid (or someone who fought tooth and nail to keep your existence cell phone-free before finally giving in), you may even remember a time when you had a landline and a phone that was attached to the wall. But the days of filling your book with bags for the train and having to go to the library to check email are over (for most of us), and the advent of smartphones has changed not only the way we communicate but the etiquette that comes with that communication.
A recent Pew study found that while many people are frustrated with the “always on” mentality that currently pervades our thinking, 89 percent of them also endorsed using their phones at social gatherings (verboten in the past), although in ways that could be considered pro-social (that means taking pictures and texting people about the event).
Here are some major differences in socially acceptable manners between the way we used to live in “the time before” (#nostalgia) and the way we live now thanks to cell phones, texting, and being able to access an entire Google worth of knowledge with just a few fumbled keystrokes with our fat thumbs on a touch screen.
Then: If you wanted to get in touch with someone, you’d just give them a call. This included friends, relatives, and your high school crush, who you’d stay on the phone with for hours regardless of whether they returned your affections or not.
Now: Never call, unless it’s an emergency situation. Toast on fire? Tweet it. House on fire? Call. Maybe.
When many of us got our first cell phones — the ones that you could program to ring with a distinct and annoying sound for each person you knew — you could barely walk a foot without hearing the tinny notes of a xylophone. Now, everyone’s phone is on silent or vibrate mode almost all the time, so chances are that the person on the other end won’t answer. You’ll just end up leaving a message for them to never listen to later. Everyone, including your mom at this point, just wishes you’d text.
Then: Calling a friend more than once to signify that you needed something urgently was considered normal. In fact, most of your friends would sometimes not pick up until at least the third consecutive call just because they knew you’d call back if you had to.
Now: Calling someone more than once in a five-minute period is considered truly psychopathic behavior. You might call if someone’s not responding to your texts as quickly as you need them to, but that one phone call is now the sign of true urgency. Only a total monster (grandma) would call over and over — thereby disturbing your ability to watch Netflix while eating pizza in bed.
Then: If someone wasn’t home (or screening their calls), you’d leave a voicemail and hope they’d get back to you. Sometimes, you might leave another message, maybe a few hours/days later.
Now: Everyone knows that your mailbox is constantly at capacity, and that’s because you haven’t listened to the majority of the voicemails people have left, but feel a little too anxious about just deleting them (what if that message from three weeks ago actually was important?). The only reason to leave a voicemail these days is because a) you know the other person won’t pick up, and b) an urgent need to absolve yourself of some guilt or confess your sins (without being interrupted).
Will the other person ever listen? Probably not. But you feel better and that’s a win!
Then: Checking your email twice a day (if that) and getting back to someone within 24 to 48 hours was thought to be a reasonable way to conduct yourself.
Now: Everyone knows all 15 of your email addresses (you’ve got to differentiate between work, personal, and what you use for all the
porn fan stuff on Tumblr) and expects you to respond within hours, if not minutes. Fail to do so and you’ve committed a major faux pas…one that will likely be followed up with a text asking “are you mad at me?” and possibly a phone call. But you were just trying to take a nap! (If they really think you’re mad, expect a lot of likes on Facebook and Twitter. You know we all do it.)
Then: Answering the phone at dinner was not only considered rude and impolite by people you know, but it was such a breach of etiquette that it’d take up entire scenes in movies and TV shows.
“We’re eating for chrissakes!”
-Every actor who’s ever played the character “teenager’s dad” on TV
Now: Sometimes the person you’re texting is the person you’re having dinner with. Especially if there are other people around who you don’t want reading your wry observations on life (like your server or that one friend you can’t believe got invited). Plus, how will people know you’ve eaten if you don’t take photos and share all possible angles of your meal? It’s become so common that you can actually get free ice cream for putting your damn phone down. Remember that Pew study up top? 78 percent of people who say they used a phone at a social gathering did it in ways they’d felt would contribute to the group.
Then: Finding out you weren’t invited to a party because someone told you. You could go your entire life blissfully not knowing that you’d missed an important social event.
Now: You find out about the party while it’s happening because everyone is on Instagram and happily showing off pictures in which they look great. You spend three weeks crying and listening to ABBA in your room.
Then: Proving a point (read: proving someone wrong) meant doing actual research and risking the fact that they’d hate you forever because of it.
Now: Proving someone wrong is only a few clicks away (even with typos, because Google will just correct it for you). The bad news is that the hate comes that quickly, too. That’s because you’re still focused on the details while other people are just trying to make a connection. (Can’t blame technology on personal failings!)
Then: Going on a blind date.
Now: A blind date? What’s that? Who’s he? Is it possible you’re speaking of Tinder, OkCupid, or Plenty of Fish? And are you suggesting we don’t Google our dates? Because that’s not happening.
In 2013, a Match.Com study found that people actually cancel dates based on Google searches. Not because they found out their date was a serial killer (it’s happened), but because of something that might be considered negligible otherwise. Three years later: Googling your date probably hasn’t become any less popular.
Then: Being late meant that one person would have to keep the faith the other would show up. Remember waiting for 20 minutes while everyone at your local neighborhood Denny’s looked at you sadly because they assumed you’d been stood up?
Now: Being late means texting near-constant updates with increasingly desperate apologies and self-deprecating remarks reminding everyone what garbage you are because you missed your train or the traffic is awful (but really you left the house an hour later than you promised you would because you were too busy watching hamster videos on your phone).
Then: Telling people you “felt naked” if you accidentally left the house without your Sidekick and having them look at you with a mixture of concern and pity.
Now: Your phone is part of your hand. Everyone knows, everyone understands, everyone is just as horrified for you as you are for yourself.