Phones & RideHail?

Is it rude to the driver if I make a phone call during an Uber trip? What’s the etiquette here?

This is a passenger in a vehicle holding a smartphone. She looks angry.
image source: Boogich/Getty. Mashable (2018)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: When I take a ride hail trip in an Uber or Lyft do I have to make small talk to the driver? And, do you think it’s OK to pull out my phone and make a call to someone? I was in a vehicle last night with a friend, and they said it was rude to then call to a friend we had in common. Mike, Mill Valley.

Dear Mike: In the early days of Uber and it was almost required that you sat up front and exchanged conversation with the driver. Ride hailing trips were unlike a taxi with the plexiglass divide, and more like riding in someone’s personal vehicle. Here in 2020 we are still riding in someone’s personal vehicle, but the business model has become far more, well, business like.

Still, we all better off if we try to approach the driver with a conversational ice-breaker. A really nice piece by Anthony Ponce, a journalist turned driver, observes that when it comes to getting around town we’re living in a Goldilocks Zone. Taxis are on the decline and driverless cars are still at least a few years away. He says that leaves us in a unique window in history where we travel with others in the most natural places for conversation: personal cars.

OUtside YOur Phone..people

Talking on your phone in the ride hail vehicles reminds me of irritating customers who talk in a grocery store as a poor clerk, probably part time and underpaid, rings up the order and packs the bags. The caller on the phone is oblivious to the person in front of them who is providing a service.

On a different note, there is some evidence that a passenger talking on a phone will distract a driver, as the driver cannot avoid cognitively ‘tuning in’ to the conversation. I won’t go there and say that you should never talk on your phone during the trip, but consider texting instead. 

Share the journey…silently

There is one instance that riders overlook, and an opportunity to stay in touch with a third party outside the vehicle. Use the ‘safety toolkit’ in the Uber (or Lyft) app to send a bread-crumb trail of your journey, so your trusted contact will know exactly where you are en-route and when you will arrive. 

Should Family Time Stream?

Should families live-stream their holiday celebrations to those off-site?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My Mom asked if I would stream video from our Thanksgiving dinner. Sh wants to see the kids in real-time and say hello, find out what I am making for dessert, and view the place-settings. I put out her Mom’s (my grandmother’s) special china plates and serving pieces just on Thanksgiving. These are all good reasons. Yet I am still reluctant to turn on the video during our holiday meal. Irma, Boston

A multi-generational family gathered around an oval shaped dining table that is set with formal place settings, candles, and wine glasses.
Photo Credit: Lillian Penner, author, “Grandparenting with a Purpose”

Dear Irma: First of all, what would the turkey say! There is no question that the holidays strain our digital etiquette, and that seems to begin here in November.

The good news is that when you run video, say on the phone or Ipad, you might have less contentious dialogue and more “instagram” perfect moments. We act differently when we know we are on camera. Here I am citing a review paper by Harvard Professor Ethan Bernstein. In work settings, when employees know that they are on videotape, there is less petty theft and more emphasis on customer sales and service. This is called technology based monitoring.

Do families behave differently when they are being filmed? Well, maybe on reality TV and when it comes to talking politics and sharing those skeleton-in-the-closet family secrets!

But seriously, I share your concerns about running the camera during your holiday. You didn’t say why your Mom can not come to Thanksgiving…is she very ill, serving overseas, or does she want to avoid holiday travel? The reason might matter (to some….)

That said, I worry for the future that ‘video holidays’ may become a new norm. Why spend money on three-day travel trips, burn excess fuel, and experience the inconveniences of holiday crowds if we can participate vicariously? Something will be gained, and a lot will be lost.

Pedestrian Safety & Phone

It’s crazy out there…phones, cars, and pedestrians. Heads up and more.

Crossing the street with phones is not safe. This is a 2016 campaign reported in the (Pittsburgh) Tribune-Review
Pedestrians and Phones Seeking Danger!
photo credit: Andrew Russell, Tribune-Review

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I read that this column was originally about distracted driving. Well, how about distracted pedestrians? I live in the city and when I take the car out there are scooters and bikes to avoid, but the most dangerous seem to be the pedestrians who jaywalk and never look up from their phones. These people don’t pay any attention to the road! Conner,San Francisco

Dear Connor: You are in the right, except that you are in the car and you must keep safe at all cost. Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities are increasing. A recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found more pedestrians and cyclists were killed last year than in any year since 1990; approximately 17 pedestrians and two cyclists were killed each day.

It’s grim. Your only choice as an urban driver is to be uber-cautious and reduce your speed. In cities, I think humans now need to drive as if they were an autonomous car. They should have super-sensors, be programmed to give way to pedestrians (right or wrong), and travel at or below the posted speed limit. Fewer right-on-red turns would help too.

Calling Situational Awareness

When pedestrians use phones they have reduced situational awareness and distracted attention. A 2008 safety study gave 30 pedestrians mobile phones to talk on and another 30 pedestrians mobile phones to hold while walking on a prescribed route. The research team planted five obtrusive objects along the route. Pedestrians conversing on the mobile phones recalled fewer of the objects than did those holding a phone but not conversing. There’s a lot more research since then on reduced situational awareness from phones. The findings apply to both pedestrians and drivers. Imagine when both type of journey makers never register seeing one another!

Boot Camp for Peds

Here’s an expression that recruits to military boot camp learn: WALK TALL, WALK PROUD, HEAD UP, EYES FORWARD. For pedestrians, it’s a 21st century update to the old adage ‘look-left, look-right’ before crossing.