What's Proper Smartphone Etiquette When Watching a Movie at Home?

By Hudson Hongo on at

A little over a decade after the release of the original iPhone, it seems we have arrived at some basic grounds rules for phone use in cinemas: calls are verboten, texting is a major offence, and checking your screen in anything but the most surreptitious manner is frowned upon. But what about when watching a movie at home with others? I’ve found that the proper protocol here has remained largely unspoken—a mistake if we, as a society, want to remain on the same page.

Of course, context matters. If you go over to a friend’s house and they’re rewatching, say, National Treasure 2 for the hundredth time, all bets are presumably off. Texting, chatting, even taking a phone call in the other room seem pretty reasonable. The question I’m posing is this: When you sit down in someone’s home to watch a movie one or more of you has not seen before, when does phone use verge into the unacceptable?

In my personal experience, checking your phone more than four times or so—unless checking on food delivery—is a faux pax. If you’re truly bored or need to attend to other matters, you can ask to stop the movie or leave the room, but texting away while your friend or partner is really engaged is guaranteed to draw deathstares. When I asked Gizmodo staffers about this, however, they seemed divided on what these standards were—or if they even existed at all.

“The thing that makes phones annoying in the cinema is that it is so dark the screen is distracting,” wrote one Gizmodo staffer. “At home the lights are normally on and the phone light isn’t bothersome.”

“I get mad if I'm watching a movie at home and someone is on their phone,” said another.

“One time my friend made me watch Harold and Maude because it ‘spoke to her soul’ and I fell asleep and she did not talk to me for two days,” added a third, which wasn’t really relevant but still felt worth including.

What do you think? Are these norms the only thing keeping us from becoming completely smartphone-addicted human slugs, or are they an artificial imposition by totalitarian cinephiles? Let us know in the comments.


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