Geek Ethicist: YUCK! Maybe Not

Geek Ethicist

“Dear Ethicist–

A couple of months ago I was sitting in a waiting room, flipping through magazines when I found an article that said smartphones (and tablets!) have more germs on them than your average toilet: Here! Here!  Here! and Here!

Of course, the very next day my co-worker wanted to show me some pictures of her kids…on her smartphone. I was terrified–and still am. I don’t want to touch anyone else’s cell phone and now clean mine at least once a week.
I guess my question is one of etiquette: How can I politely decline to touch anyone else’s cell phone? I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to subject myself to those kind of germs, either.


Sign Me–

iPhone Germaphobe”

Dear IG,
I don’t want to guess what doctor’s office you were waiting in, but this sounds a bit like the fears of someone with an actual phobia.  We now know that the amount of Oxazepam (used to treat anxiety and depression) and tons of other psych meds we take are actually beginning to make the fish in our rivers crazy. Yes, our love of Prozak is poisoning our fish.  Now that is an excretory problem to worry about. Unreasonable fears, phobias and minor mental discomforts have become a booming secular religion across the developed world, financed by innumerable industries from the pharmacological giants to sustainable natural herbalists to cleaning products companies. Yes, there is plenty of poop on our Iphones, our TV remotes, our shoes, and our kids are just about covered all over in filth.  Let’s not get too anxious about it. Save the fish.

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After you touch someone’s iPhone or any keyboards, even your own, probably wise to wash your hands before you stick your fingers in your face. And recognize that the articles you referenced are all selling cleaning products in one way or another. What you are reading is the power of PR to crush the prudence of common sense. Shaking hands with a half dozen people or helping a child tie his sneakers is likely to smear your hands with more than enough yuck to have the same effect as looking at your friend’s baby pictures on her smart phone.  Be pleasant, coo over her pictures; then go wash your hands in the bathroom, especially if you have an immune disorder.

E Coli:  Why we wash our hands after touching your dirty smart phone!

E Coli: Why we wash our hands after touching your dirty smart phone!

Far from being a cause of illness, the smart phone has now actually become a medical device that saves thousands of lives and soon billions of dollars in health care costs. As this NBC video demonstrates, iPhone apps are now used to provide everything from echo cardiograms to cardiac sonograms.

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So rather than worrying about germs, just use common sense when touching people’s personal items including their handkerchiefs, combs, TV remotes, razors and personal keyboard devices.

The more interesting aspect of the dirty smart phone phenomenon is that we now take the whole world with us into the bathroom when we take care of our most personal business.  I still find it plain old creepy hearing men talking to their wives while sitting in the toilet stall next to me in a public bathroom.  Though it is so common, now I should scarcely notice.  Still, what we really need is public bathroom etiquette for mobile device use.  How about: Keep your privates private especially in a public restroom!  I don’t like knowing your wife or whoever (!) might hear ME too.  But then that may just be something between me and my own drug-dispensing secular minister therapist to work through.

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Emily Cantin researched, co-authored and created original artwork for this article.

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