Technology moves faster than our etiquette. Knowing social cues and remaining polite is difficult enough, that's why Miss Manners, Dear Abby, and Emily Post had jobs. Watching the subtle cues for social appropriateness is easier for some than others. But the rapid introduction of new communication technologies has thrown a curve ball to even some of the most socially savvy folks.
Prior to the introduction of the cell phone, reaching someone meant calling them on a telephone that was hard wired to a fixed location. Need to talk to someone and they aren't at home or the office? You will just have to wait. Want to escape and go for a walk in the woods without being reached? No problem. Need a break in your car? Not a worry.
Now we are expected to answer the phone any time of day or night. People get pissed if they cannot reach someone. This leaves no room for people to be unplugged and simply be. It doesn't take into account having meals, using the bathroom, exercising, or simply visiting uninterrupted with others. In many ways, it is a real violation of one's privacy when there is a societal expectation of "always on" availability.
For my law office, I only take calls during normal business hours, which are 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. If someone calls before or after these times, they are expected to leave a message. The purpose for this is to keep my time and life segmented in a healthy way. It is simply too stressful to be dealing with crisis situations at 10 pm. There needs to be a mental expectation that one can relax and maintain balance in one's life without always being available. If not, job burnout and poor performance result.
The same goes for visiting with others. When I go to dinner with someone or I'm having a cup of coffee with friends or family, I don't take calls. By doing this, I am telling the person who is present they are more important and have my full attention. It is showing respect for that other person and their time. They don't need to sit and listen to me chat with someone on a conversation they cannot hear.
Bathroom breaks are the same. I'm sorry but if I am using the bathroom, that is private time. The calls will have to wait. Hearing another person flush while they are talking is disgusting. Sorry.
Smartphones make the problem of cell phone etiquette even more complex. On top of calls, one can receive Facebook messages, Twitter updates, emails, Instagrams, and God knows what else 24/7. If you are waiting in line at the bank or pharmacy and checking these helps you to pass the time without being impatient and being a dick to the clerk, then fine. But once you reach the front of the line, put your smartphone away. Nothing is more rude than taking a call or checking Facebook while the clerk is made to wait.
If you are visiting with a doctor or lawyer, keep the cell phone put away. Don't read your text messages. It tells the person that you aren't fully present and don't value their time. Be present. Pay respect to that person.
Not texting while driving should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately it is done far too much. You are better off driving drunk than texting while driving. Both will get you and others killed quickly. If you want to use your phone in the car, buy a Bluetooth headset. Have both eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel. I can't believe I have to say this, but it is true.
The urge to not check one's phone every few minutes relates to the dopamine reward center of the brain. Studies have shown that the sensation one gets from checking one's phone is the same as one gets from tasty food and even cocaine use. It releases dopamine and other "feel good" chemicals in the body. Yet the will can overcome these urges. We don't have to be slaves to our machines.
All of this doesn't mean getting rid of your cell phone. It does mean letting the cell phone remain a tool and you not becoming a tool. That is the difference.