Is it ok to use voice search in a public place?

Oh, the travails of life in the 21st century. We’re presented with peculiar perils of propriety that would have utterly befuddled our ancestors. Is it ok to take a phone call while on a date? What about answering a text? When is it appropriate to check e-mails? What if it’s some sort of emergency?

Of course in the past there were no such problems. If you were really important you had a pager and no one paged you except really important customers or patients. Those days are long gone, of course. Today we’re bombarded with information at all times of the day or night and it’s not always appropriate to stop what you’re doing and look at it.

The big question today is how appropriate it is to use something like Siri or Google Now when in a crowded place. This question has come up before in similar ways and sadly, it’s always been decided that being loud and rude is ok. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking on the phone or using some annoying chirpy Nextel device, the general verdict is that people had no problem whatsoever being loud and sharing personal information no matter where they are.

So is it rude to use voice search, especially where you have the choice of typing your query instead? Probably no more rude than being on the phone in public, but before you go asking all those questions of your intelligent digital assistant, you might want to consider three things:

She can probably hear you even if you whisper.
The days when talking on the phone meant shouting are gone. Tone it down — when you ask a question hold the phone to your mouth or use a Bluetooth headset. These phones can generally understand you even if you talk very quietly, so… talk very quietly.

You’re the one embarrassing yourself, choose words carefully.
If you ask your phone to tell you where the nearest “gentleman’s club” is you’re not helping your reputation, especially if you’re in church. That’s an extreme example but remember, if you’re saying it then others are hearing it. Maybe some of those queries are really better typed in.

Whether or not it’s rude isn’t your choice.
In these early days of the internet revolution, we all have our ideas of what’s rude and what isn’t. If you’re happily having a conversation with Google Now and you get nasty glances, maybe consider stopping. In any case where someone could be offended, it’s the person who is offended who decides right or wrong, not the offender. Just shouting “hey what are you looking at” doesn’t make you right.

A hundred years from now, the question of whether to talk to your phone in public will seem silly, but of course we’ll have other problems by then, problems we can’t even guess today.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.