Photos by Anouk Brekhof

Smartphone etiquette

Earplugs in / Earplugs out

Photos by Anouk Brekhof
Students often got their first smartphone as early as primary school and therefore developed a different phone etiquette than their parents. But there is also a difference between older and younger students. ‘Younger students are much more fixated on their phones.’
9 November om 17:21 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 11 November 2021
om 11:16 uur.
November 9 at 17:21 PM.
Last modified on November 11, 2021
at 11:16 AM.
Avatar photo

Door Fay van Odijk

9 November om 17:21 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 11 November 2021
om 11:16 uur.
Avatar photo

By Fay van Odijk

November 9 at 17:21 PM.
Last modified on November 11, 2021
at 11:16 AM.
Avatar photo

Fay van Odijk

First-year media studies student Kika Unger (19) spends approximately six hours a day on her smartphone. That’s on the weekends, though, as she has to study, attend parties, and keep up with other obligations during the week. ‘I spend less on my phone from Monday to Friday.’ 

Whenever she’s bored or she sees other people on their phone, she immediately reaches for hers. ‘I never really know what to do. I could say something, but if everyone else is on their phone they’re not going to respond, so I just reach for mine.’

Three hours a day

Kika isn’t the only one. In 2012, people between 18 and 24 spent approximately 16.8 hours a week online. This has since risen to 23.1 hours a week. 3.3 hours a day, research by Media Standard Survey has shown. In 84 percent of cases, young people use their smartphone to go online.

I try to look at less nonsense on my phone, but I don’t always succeed

Nineteen-year-old business student Jaas Maaskant spends a lot more time on his phone than he’d like. At least three hours a day, half of which he spends on useful things, like sending messages, reading the news, and looking up information. ‘But the other ninety minutes is pure time-wasting’, he says. 

‘That’s when I get bored and can’t find anything better to do. But there are so many other things I could do than looking at my phone.’ Jaas does try to cut down on his time-wasting. ‘I try to look at less nonsense on my phone, like Instagram videos, but I don’t always succeed.’


Not all students use their phone the same way. Looking at Instagram at the movies or wearing earplugs during a conversation are perfectly fine for younger students, while slightly older students wouldn’t even dream of it.

My sister made an Instagram account when she was twelve, I didn’t until I was fourteen

‘The younger you are, the more addicted you are to your phone’, Jaas thinks. He can see the difference in phone usage at home. ‘My sister essentially grew up with an iPad in her hand and made an Instagram account when she was twelve. I didn’t make one until I was fourteen.

He also noticed a difference with his older roommates, who’ve since moved out. ‘The older people used their phone much more business-like, for texting and calling.’


Student of international business Nadine van Raamsdonk (20) has noticed the same thing. ‘The younger students in my house are much more fixated on their phones than the older ones. And it keeps getting worse.’

When she moved into her students house a little over two years ago, no one really talked about their phones. ‘The older people in the house didn’t spend as much time on their phones, which meant I didn’t as much, either. It just wasn’t an issue.’ 

But now, things have changed, and people spend an increasing amount of time on their phones. ‘The older people are moving out and with the younger generation moving in, the use of smartphones also increases.’

Background music

The way in which people use their smartphones also varies. Kika wears her earplugs all day. ‘I need to have background music on at all times’, she says. ‘But when I see that people are annoyed, I take them out.’

I used to be able to pay attention to a movie, but now I simply have to look at my phone

Business student Tobias Nahuys (22) doesn’t think that’s okay at all. ‘I think it’s really rude and I would never do it myself. It’s so unsociable and makes you look uninterested.’  How he responds to other people wearing earplugs varies. He always says something if he knows the person, but if not, it depends on the situation.

‘If someone asks me something while they’re wearing earplugs, I probably won’t comment on it’, says Tobias. ‘But I automatically take mine out when someone asks me something or I need something.’

Perfectly normal

Kika thinks it’s perfectly fine to scroll through social media when she’s watching a movie. ‘All those short videos on TikTok have ruined my attention span. I used to be able to pay attention to a movie, but now I simply have to look at my phone. Although I’m fine when my phone battery’s dead.’

The reasons for using a smartphone also vary. Kika considers her phone a source of entertainment rather than a communication device. Why? ‘Perhaps because I see my phone as break from being social. If I call or text someone, I’m engaging in social behaviour, except this time, it’s on my phone.’

Just like a forty-year-old lecturer might get annoyed by his students using smartphones, students also get annoyed with each other. ‘If I’m talking to someone and they look at their phone, I do think that’s pretty rude’, says Nadine.


In Tobias’ house, people sometimes get upset when the younger students play games on their phones. ‘It’s a little annoying sometimes’, he says. ‘They’ll be yelling at their phones while others are trying to relax. People will usually tell them to go elsewhere.’

Some student houses have even made arrangements to curb smartphone use. Most of these are unwritten rules, simply general manners: put your phone away when you’re talking to someone, and don’t watch videos with sound when someone’s sitting next to you. 

If you do it anyway, you have to do all the dishes by yourself that night

‘At our house, you’re not allowed to be on your phone during dinner, you can’t watch videos with sound, and you leave the room when you get phone call’, says Kika. For her, these rules are so obvious, she doesn’t really know how to explain them. She says: ‘It’s like, I’m doing this interview with you right now, so I can’t just grab my phone right now. That’s just rude.’

Unwritten rules

Nadine’s house also has rules about the use of smartphones. ‘They’re not really specific. They’re more unwritten rules. If someone looks at their phone during dinner, others will call them out.’

But it doesn’t always work. ‘Some people are more addicted to their phones than others, which makes it difficult, because it means some people hate it when you’re on your phone while others don’t think it’s a problem. There’s a clear divide between the younger students and the older ones.’

Some student houses even impose sanctions when it comes to breaking the rules of smartphone use. Such is the case in the house where Jaas lives. ‘In our house, you can’t use your phone during dinner or when you’re sitting at the table’, he says. ‘If you do it anyway, you have to do all the dishes by yourself that night.’