'Butt dialing' and the nine new deadly sins of cell phone use

Thou shalt not use bad phone hygiene, take pictures at funerals or make untoward braggadocio

Like many people these days, Sara Winkler dreads being the butt of "butt dialing." That's the name given to unintentional dialing that occurs when keys are inadvertently pressed on cell phones stowed in pants pockets or purses.

"It's happened to me twice in the last three months," says Winkler, who lives in Winter Haven, Fla., and is a leadership development specialist at a large insurance company. "I had three-minute messages of shuffling and background noise on my answering machine."

"I've done that to my husband, and he hears me singing along to the radio in the car," says Kathleen Baker, a human resources coordinator at a Portland, Ore., hospital. "Or my phone will ring and I'll hear somebody order their lunch."

It's a rare person these days who doesn't have horror stories about loud, annoying or inappropriate cell phone use they've encountered in airports, hotel lobbies, even theaters and funerals. While many abuses, such as loud chattering, have been long discussed, newer abuses, such as butt dialing, are becoming common.

In fact, there are at least nine new deadly sins of cell phone use, of which butt dialing is one. At the end of this article, you'll have the chance to vote on which of the deadly sins you think is the worst. Also, please share your worst incident of mobile phone rudeness in our Comments section at the bottom of this page.

The old sins: Bad and getting worse

Before discussing the new deadly sins of cell phone use, it's worth emphasizing that the old sins, such as loud talking in public places, haven't gone away.

Part of the problem is that many people believe that if they pay for mobile phone service, they should be able to use their phone in any way they want. It's kind of like smokers believing that since they paid for the cigarettes, they should be allowed to smoke them anywhere.

"Somehow, there's a sense of entitlement," says Pat Pesci, director of the hotel and restaurant management program at Kansas State University.

Joseph Grenny, a co-founder of VitalSmarts, a company that specializes in corporate training and organizational performance, says that one of the biggest problems with bad mobile phone behavior is that it makes victims feel powerless. He also is co-author of the book Crucial Confrontations, which discusses how to handle socially difficult situations, such as cell phone misconduct. He likened such situations to a mugging he witnessed on a subway platform.

"The woman got pushed and somebody grabbed her purse and ran away," Grenny recalls. "Seven hundred people must have watched it but, combined, they were less powerful than [the mugger] because they didn't do anything about it."

A Web survey conducted by VitalSmarts found that 91% of the respondents had recently suffered from what Grenny calls technology-related public displays of insensitivity (PDI). Interestingly, 83% of the respondents claimed they never or rarely were guilty of committing a PDI. In other words, people are being rude and boorish with their cell phones and aren't aware of their own transgressions, Grenny noted.

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