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Apple Watch etiquette: Is it rude to check your Watch?

Apple Watch, and smart watches in general, are not ubiquitous enough yet for us to get what it means when someone looks down at their wrist. When we quickly glance down to see if an email or text message can be ignored temporarily, it might look to others like we are checking the time, like we are in a hurry to leave the conversation.

Which is ironic because one of the purposes of Apple Watch is to allow us to address our various notifications without being distracted from what's going on right in front of us.

Until most people have a smart watch and we all understand that looking down at our wrist doesn't mean we are in a hurry, checking a notification might seem rude.

How my Apple Watch made me feel bad

I was recently on a nature walk, and was tracking my exercise with my Apple Watch. As I was hiking up a trail, a passerby caught my attention with a friendly how-do-you-do. I paused my exercise tracker so I could take a moment and chat with my fellow nature lover. To him, however, it looked like I was checking the time, to which he said, "Oh, I can tell you have somewhere to go, I'll leave you to it." I explained that I was pausing my timer so I could converse with him. He understood, but I still felt bad. For just a moment, he thought I didn't want to talk to him because I was in a hurry to get somewhere.

I've also been on the other end of the situation. I was having a conversation with a friend a little late into the evening. She glanced down at her Apple Watch, and for a split second, I thought she must want to go home. Turns out, she was just checking a notification.

We've had a hundred years of conditioning to understand that looking at your wrist meant checking the time, which sometimes means it's time to go. We've only had a few years, and not very many participants, to retrain our brains to understand that looking at your wrist doesn't necessarily mean checking the time, but instead means we're trying to stay present in the conversation.

So, what can we do?

So, how can we make use of Apple Watch's ability to keep us connected and not distracted, while not offending those around us who might take our watch checking actions the wrong way?

My first suggestion is to take a moment. It's instinctual to look down at your Watch as soon as you feel that buzz on your wrist, but that can seem abrupt and distracting to those around us. If you pause a beat before checking a notification, you can train your brain to wait until the right moment.

Which leads me to my second suggestion; Wait until the right moment. When you're in the middle of a conversation, it might be more polite to wait until the other person finishes a sentence before looking down at your watch. When there is a break, you can even let your companion know what you're up to — "I'm just checking this text" or the like. That way, you don't give off the impression that you're checking the time because you have to leave soon. Most people will be less offended by you checking a text then acting like you want to leave.

Someday, none of this will matter

Someday, smart watches will be popular enough that we will be reconditioned to understand that looking at our wrist doesn't mean we need or want to leave. Just like taking your phone out of your pocket, someday checking your watch will only imply to others that you are reading a notification. But, for now, we should think about how we look to someone else when, in the middle of a conversation, we lift our wrist and look at our watch.

Have you had any experiences with people checking their Apple Watch or had someone seem offended when you look at yours? How did you deal with the situation? Do you have suggestions for Apple Watch etiquette? Let's discuss in the comments.

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).

8 Comments
  • I find the argument that checking your Apple Watch is *particularly* rude to be kind of silly. In all the instances mentioned above, pulling out your phone in the middle of a conversation would be *equally* rude. And in both cases, a little communication would have helped. Just say "Hold on while I pause this" or "I'm sorry, I'm expecting an important message," and the other person will know you're not checking the time. Or, if you're not actually expecting an important message, just leave it until later (as mentioned above). This false idea has been the case since the beginnings of the Apple Watch. I remember Nilay Patel's Review at the Verge where he said he was talking with his friend at a bar, and when he checked his watch, it seemed rude. PULLING OUT YOUR PHONE AND CHECKING IT MID-CONVO IS RUDE TOO.
  • Let's be honest, glancing at your watch is WAY less rude than pulling out a phone and tapping a few times and putting it back in your pocket. How long have people been wearing watches? And the wearers have been looking at their watches for an equally long time to see what time it is. That was never considered rude until the Apple Watch came out.
  • I get how we've been conditioned over the years, but personally, I find people talking via speakerphone or voice assistant in public far worse.
  • Besides waiting for the right moment to check the watch, it also helps to interact with the watch when checking the notification. Just a short tap or rotating the dial. That seems to break that "glancing at the time" conditioning.
  • I agree with your take on this pfluger. A slight interaction shows there is something just a bit more than checking the time. And I also agree that we have been conditioned to seeing someone checking the time as a sign they need to be, or want to be, somewhere else. The smartphone has become so prolific in our world that the similar action of looking at your phone does not convey the same "I have to go" message. A physical watch interaction or verbally stating that you're checking a notification, or the weather perhaps, I think will help to bridge the gap until the culture shifts.
  • Went to a Sprint store to help my mother-in-law figure out her billing. The rep kept checking her watch then used her Bluetooth headset to make a call while we were standing there waiting for her to help us. It's definitely rude to do it while working with customers.
  • Yes
    My mother thinks she is wasting my time when I check my watch
  • With me it depends on how often they do it, and other things like body language. There is a stark difference between someone who is just casually checking their watch and someone who looks to be in a hurry. The casual checker will be more relaxed about it, and the one who is in a hurry will be more tense. If I am checking my watch or phone a lot when another person is talking to me, I usually tell them I am waiting for an important message or call and the vast majority of the time they are very understanding.