Dear Ms. Smartphone: This Sunday at church I had a real surprise. During the sermon the gentleman in the pew ahead of me pulled out his phone and began scrolling through his email and calendar. I was too surprised to tap him on the shoulder and ask him to stop that. Would you have done that? Mina, San Rafael
Dear Mina, Your question gets right to the heart of digital etiquette. The fact that someone else pulled out their phone in a public space (in this case a sacred space) both disturbed and distracted you.
The gentleman probably did not consider that using his phone might be an interference and annoyance to people around him. It clearly distracted you from why you came. So, yes, tap him on the shoulder, smile, and make a gesture to suggest that he put the phone away.
In reading more about churches and digital policies, I learned that some ‘younger’ churches now encourage parishioners to use their phone during the service. Smartphones reduce reliance on print Bibles and print programs and some clergy feel that it can engage parishioners to dig deeper into the sacred texts or homily.
There are also more conventional uses of the smartphone: like an on-line bulletin board to announce, recruit and schedule community events. Parish wisdom proclaims that we should only answer the phone when God is calling – presumably that will be not during the service, or during the drive home.