did i miss the “don’t plug in your phone” memo?

Update: I’ve written a comment below responding to some questions and clarifying my point a little. Thanks for the feedback, everyone!

Am I missing something?

I consider myself a pretty respectful and courteous guy, especially to strangers and their businesses.

In my job, I find myself all over the city, and quite often in the lobbies of various doctors and city governmental agencies. Because I’m on the road, my phone is my main connection to the rest of the world (to varying degrees of success. To those that I’ve never returned your emails, I’m sorry, it’s easy for me to lose sight of things when I only have my phone to email with), so it runs out of battery pretty easily (I am, what the marketers call, a “power user”).

And so I try and plug in my phone wherever I can, whenever I can.

Increasingly, though, more and more security guards in these lobbies are yelling at me to un-plug my phone, and telling me it’s “rude”, I “should ask permission”, and that it is simply “common courtesy” not use these outlets. The most amusing was today when, after my phone had been plugged in for twenty minutes with no problem, the front desk security “guard” told me (quite forcefully and impassionedly) that I had to unplug because it would “set off their alarms”. That doesn’t even make sense.

But anyway, when did this happen? When did plugging in your phone begin falling under the “rude” heading? I would understand if I was attempting to set up an entire workstation–plugging in a laptop, phone, external hard-drive, and coffee-maker–but a phone? If you’re using the services of this building, and not just loitering, I tend to liken plugging in your phone to using their restroom, staying in their lobby a few minutes longer to wait for your ride when it’s raining, drinking coffee in a covered container while you wait, or throwing your gum wrapper or coffee cup in their trash.

I would understand if a sign was up, or if the particular place of business understood that you can plug in at most other places, but they are just being weird for whatever reason (and so the misunderstanding is more because of their quirk than your inconsideration). But the level of anger, frustration, and condescension I’ve experienced over this is very odd to me.

Perhaps my expectations have just been ruined by coffee-shops, airports, libraries, and subways which all freely allow others to plug in while they work or wait.

So that’s my venting, what do you all think?

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189 thoughts on “did i miss the “don’t plug in your phone” memo?

  1. I find it hard to believe your phone needs recharging at every possible moment throughout the day if you start it with a fully charged phone and charge it occasionally while in your office and in the car. Still, this ban on recharging strikes me as rather silly. Have you considered A) Making sure you charge your phone at night? B) Making sure you always charge your phone while in the car C) Getting one of those external battery packs that’s built into the case? D) Using your phone less for high power-consuming tasks (e.g., allowing apps to constantly tap into GPS)? E) Getting a superior product with better battery life (yeah, you know which one I mean).

  2. Congratulations on being freshly pressed.
    On a couple of recent business trips I have stayed in hotels where there are no sockets to run a laptop or recharge a phone. Everything is hard wired. The TV, the hair dryer, and I suppose they expect only wet shavers. These are not particularly cheap hotels either but it always leaves me feeling that hey should be. It does seem petty when their coffee costs enough to cover the cost of a recharge.

  3. after reading the above i would like to narrate my experience in traveling in a train about 3 months back i traveled from Vizag to Bangalore by Prasanthi express in 3rd a/c , after some time i want to charge my cell , then i was roaming in the compartment ,to find out the plug point, where to charge …….out of all only one out let, we found working …….but there was a ….Que ….and we have to disturb the person where it is working and more over safety too ……you cant leave ur cell and go to ur place

  4. I have to agree with the other comment asking why they have the outlets there if they do not want them used. I have actually sat in hospital waiting rooms with my laptop plugged in and no one has ever said a word. That is like a place offering free wi-fi, but telling you they do not allow computers in their facility because of security reasons. I actually had that happen, I was like, wait, what, so why do you offer free wi-fi to customers. They just looked at me like I was crazy.

  5. And yet in Hong Kong and Singapore many places have courtesy chargers that you may use. You do not even need to have your own charger and each outlet has a little box with a code you can set so you can leave your phone knowing it is locked and safe…

  6. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!!

    You weren’t in an area frequented by those Occupy people, were you? I’ve heard people have been keeping them from using their outlets because they don’t approve of them but otherwise, I think it’s rude to get all pissy about someone charging their phone for a few minutes.

    That last place must have suckage alarms where they are alerted if someone sucks up a miniscule amount of their energy. Was it a major corporation? Heaven forbid you take any money from THEIR bottom line lol. Maybe we should all go and “set off their alarms” :P

  7. Pluging in a coffee pot I like that additon I can just imagine sitting there and hearing the coffee perking as I’m charging my laptop and phone. I think it’s just a sign of the times people are a lot more plugged in these days. I never thought in a million years I would walk around with a power cord for my lap top in my purse. Congratulations on being freshly Pressed.

  8. I’ve never even thought about it being a nuisance. I think of it as being kind to your fellow human to allow someone to use the plugs. but yea, like you said, if I turned up suddenly with my 54inch plasma screen and full on production editing equipment, complete with 2KW lights and a crew of 10 people to carry it all in with me, and then start using the plugs there, then sure, I would expect someone might just raise an eyebrow.,,but full on anger over a phone…i mean come on.

  9. I think that using something that belongs to someone else without asking them first has always been considered rude hasn’t it?

    I think that charging your phone is my responsibility and the costs of doing that should be mine. I can’t imagine that you would ask them if you can use their telephone while you are there to save on callcosts would you? So why use their power… If you came to my house as friend and asked first, then fine, but if you came on business, and just plugged right in, then I would object.

    And I think most lobbies / waiting areas were not designed with busy professionals in mind – they have outlets there so that the cleaning staff can use them…not for the benefit of people who forgot to charge their phone before they left home!

  10. Sorry, that should be I think that charging ‘my’ phone is my responsibility. As you see, I’m really not keen on charging ‘your’ phone!

  11. So the extra plugs are for what? The cleaners vaccuumm doubt it, cripes people your energy bills are tax deductable in places anyway, give the guy a break…

  12. Ha, that’s ridiculous. What is the point in having empty power sockets around lobbies etc if people can’t use them? Especially with the world revolving around the importance of technology at the moment. Maybe it’s a USA thing – I’ve never had a problem here in the UK!

  13. I’d suggest that it’s polite to ask before using something that belongs to someone else, unless it’s blatantly obvious that it’s meant to be used by others (the coffee shop/airport examples). But in someone else’s lobby space, it strikes me as simple courtesy just to check with someone that it’s fine to use their power while you’re waiting.

    Of course, I’d also argue that the courteous response should be a simple “yes, of course”. But regardless of the reply, I think it’s just politeness to ask, and only takes a second to do so.

  14. I do the same, use my phone for work and constantly have to charge it up.
    However I do think it’s rude to go ahead and plug your own devices in without even asking. If no one is around, fair enough do it anyway but in a busy place? Just ask, they’ve never said no to me.

    And the ‘empty sockets’ a poster above mentioned aren’t there for public use, they’re there for the hotel – to plug in vacuum cleaners etc, i thought that was pretty straight forward.

    It’s just good manners to ask to use someone else’s electricity. It’s not free.

  15. I suppose stealing is stealing no matter what the commodity. Even taking their electricity without asking is still stealing. On the whole, no-one’s going to refuse very often, but it’s still just plain good manners to ask first. It’s polite. Just taking it and assuming they don’t mind, is just rude.

  16. Yes!! I agree 100%! Plugging in a phone for a few minutes is no different than using the restroom or other amenity in a business or establishment. By the way… sounds like you have the same piece-of-junk phone as me… needs to be charged constantly.
    Congrats on being freshly pressed!


  17. I completely agree with you on the matter, what is the problem if your not loitering in the building like some may. Last I checked also they post signs when they dont want you to do something. I am also a “power user” and even if I start out with a charged phone at 7am my iPhone 4s needs to be charged by 11am…yes I have every power saving option changed that you can even to the screen being so dim you can barely see at times. I have been asked to unplug my device as well by other employees even after asking to do so, I guess they would much rather me find an exposed usb port on the back of a computer that they are using and watch their faces as all kinds of driver alerts pop up just to get a few minutes of charge. Great post…too bad it wont get to the people who complain about us “plugging in.”

  18. Actually, those empty sockets are for cleaning staff, remember lobbies had outlets before mobile electronics became the fashion. Do you really think those outlets were put in there for the customers use, just in case? I also don’t think it was a big deal at the time, but people do come in there with several devices, and now it is easier to have a blanket rule.

    It really depends on the business how rude it is, I know a person that works in retail store that has an issue with customers pulling items off the shelf to get to the outlet behind them. That would irritate me as well…

    That being said, I think that in most cases it is more of an entitlement thing. Many people don’t like it when you take something that is not offered. It can come off the same way as walking up and taking a pen off someones desk does, it really isn’t a big deal, but a lot of people find it offensive.

  19. My place of work forbids employee use of power outlets, included but not limited to recharging phones. The official explanation my supervisor gave me is that it has something to do with insurance — they’re worried that some dumb employee could cause an electrical fire, basically. I suspect that it may also/instead have to do with worries about power bills.

  20. I think we are describing different issues here. When you stay at a hotel, they are charging you for use of their facility in its entirety. That includes electricity use. Going to someone’s home or a vendor and using their electric sockets to charge our devices well… that is a different story. To plug into that socket without obtaining permission would be stealing, regardless of whether your current relationship is transactional (such as with a vendor or client). Ethically, this seems coherent to me.

  21. I’m from the UK too, but I’ve never seen anyone doing this, but I love the idea that people not wanting us to use their energy is ‘stingy’. Lighten up, it’s only electricity – it’s tax deductible. I should try that with my neighbour.

    So, if you think that mobile phone charging is acceptable – where do you draw the line? What exactly would you use those sockets for? How about a shaver. I gotta shave and have no time in my busy job for this – damn thing keeps running out of juice. Likewise hairdriers / straighteners ladies. You know that feeling – got to be at work at 9 and squeeze a doctor’s appoitnment in first – why not get ready there? Coffee machines? Toasters? Power drill? Maybe we could run a cable outside and power a few more things – why not? Share and share alike in this technology-heavy world huh?

  22. I can see both sides of this, from your point of view
    “Perhaps my expectations have just been ruined by coffee-shops, airports, libraries, and subways which all freely allow others to plug in while they work or wait.” while this is true you are also doing one very important thing in all of these scenarios, your spending your money at these places.
    On the other side business lobbies tend to try and have fresh “uncluttered” look if you will, they don’t want anyone hanging out if its all possible.
    I am a firm believer in asking before doing when it involves other peoples stuff, I am sure we will be seeing charging stations being installed some for free some for a fee.
    Great post I really enjoyed it

  23. Let me start by saying that I have done it, even got a nasty look or two when I was recharging my camera battery at a National Park Service site that shall go unnamed. However, what is troubling in both the article and the comments is the sense of entitlement displayed. Just because a business has outlets in their lobby, they are under no obligation to you to let you use them. It is THEIR property and they have every right to decide how or if it gets used. To expect otherwise is immature. It is your responsibility to provide power for your phone, not theirs.

  24. I think it’s partly an issue of “taking without asking”, but I also think there’s a security issue going on here. (I’m not agreeing with it, however.) Security guards tend to get nervous about electronic devices left in public areas.

  25. Paul (is it a stretch to assume that’s your name?), that is RIdiculous. As a very busy phone user with a crappy battery life, I have literally gone into restaurants for the sole purpose of charging my phone. OFTEN. The outlet is just going to sit there, unloved, unless you plug something into it! Tell THAT to the guards.
    Maybe this is a sign of an impending resource struggle! I hope not!

  26. Maybe it’s the English heritage in Australia … maybe I am just old fashioned, or maybe a polite freak … I would always ask to plug my phone in … but then we do not have ports to do so at train stations (that I am aware of anyway) in Australia. To not ask, even at a friend’s place, would be, in my value system, to take a liberty … its spending another person’s money without asking … but then I ask to use someone’s bathroom too … and once I moved out of home, I always asked if I could eat the food out of my parent’s fridge … but I do not ask permission use the bathroom in a public foyer so maybe I just have inconsistent standards … never really thought about it … food for thought :-)
    Happy Easter!

  27. The place I used to work (bookstore & cafe) only allowed recharging at certain outlets located high on a wall behind a countertop. The reason was they were terrified of being sued if somebody tripped over someone else’s cable on the floor. Not sure why they would have been at fault and not the person plugged in, but that’s our lawsuit-happy culture for you.

    They did at least post signs on the outlets they didn’t want used directing people to the approved ones.

  28. First, I love how you put the word “guard” in “quotes” above…too funny!


    And if they’re worried about your little phone setting off their alarms, they have much bigger problems!

  29. i look at it as my responsibility to carry extra batteries which are always fully charged. I am alleviated of the necessity of relying on some one else for that need. There are inexpensive, quality extra external batteries available as well for iPhone.

  30. Just a random thought in response to the “why put in outlets if you don’t want the public to use them” sentiment: most building codes in the US dictate the minimum number/spacing of outlets provided, based on a space’s function and size. Sometimes it’s just not about the public user component.

    I don’t have to use my cell phone for work, so I’ve not run into this need myself; I agree with the ask-first comments above, though. Electricity isn’t a service akin to providing restrooms, so it’s courteous to ask.

  31. Something similar happened to me in the DC metro. After buying all day passes, our group of foreign students, unfortunately, realized our Metro cards wouldn’t work for another 30min, when peak morning traffic ends and all day passes begin. Seeing an electrical outlet squirreled away in the corner of a public area, I decided to charge my phone. Shortly thereafter, I was asked if I had asked permission. WTF

  32. keep venting…you’re a volcano…let that be your mantra: “I’m a fucking volcano…you really don’t want to fucking fuck with me motherfucker…” something along those lines…Security gaurds never talk that way to me…could be cause of my ultra inviso suit too so it’s hard to tell…funny image of plugging in a coffee maker etc cause I’ve been guilty of that so many times at Starbucks. I was in Austin in 2008 and lived at the Starbucks on Lamar where I would pull out my strip and plug in my movie camera, still camera, dvd burner, phone, interplanetary burst device etc…and they never said “boo” not once…they even brought me nice little cake samples, free coffee etc, etc…I hope it was out of kindness and not cause they saw the smoke…you now?…I’m doing the same thing now in Harvard Square in their beautiful new store on the corner of JFK but I don’t have as many devices anymore…I’m guilty of bringing my big battery pack in there and leaving it on charge for 12 hours at a time. If Starbucks ever confronts me with the evidence and hands me a bill…I’m fucked…but my cardinal rule is: “never let your lava flow over rocks that kindly glow…” I actually saw that inscribed on the inside of a cave entrance on Mars…I know that’s hard to believe but who could have imagined a lap top 20 years ago…you know? But you!….you should spew…whenever you feel that ancient hurt anew…just spew baby spew…Mount Vesuvius knew when to spew…I know I will too but Starbucks will be spared….fer sure!!!!

  33. As I was waiting in the lobby for my daughter to finish her college testing, my phone died. I looked around and saw an outlet right next to my feet. “Cool!” – I must admit my common sense was telling me to plug my phone into the outlet that was built into the lobby in the waiting area- makes sense. But something inside of me hesitated for a minute, looked around and felt awkward. Then my common sense came back and I plugged it in and played angry birds.

  34. Come on over here to Bali, Indonesia, where nothing is too much trouble… the staff will even help you ‘plug in’ even if you dont need to be in their building, you may even be offered coffee while you wait for the charge up ! I have even ordered food from a Warung ( restaurant ) and taken the plate, sat down and eaten it with friends dining at a neighboring restaurant… I can not imagine that happening where you live…

  35. I found your article thought provoking to say the least. There are several issues involved. I don’t know if it’s manners (which have ceased to be taught in most places) as the first consideration or potential theft of property, though you did say that you were a guest at the hotel, was it? Of course there may also be some potential for security risk, due to the days we live in…. don’t scoff, that’s how the airplanes flying into the tall buildings happened. Someone scoffed at the idea that not learning to land was a potential problem.
    Additionally, I think this has a lot to do with an entitlement attitude. Never before has any generation thought it was so entitled to anything it wanted, except certain past Royals, perhaps (I don’t think They are supposed to feel so entitled either, but it seems to creep into the role, the longer the position is in place).
    It’s understandable that this generation thinks it is entitled, since our good Senators and other politicians have been telling them they are entitled to this, that, and the otherthing in order to get their votes. The Senators have been doing this for so long that they think they(the Senators) are entitled too everything They want too.
    I hate to break it to you people, but no one is entitled to Anything. This life we are experiencing is an adventure of huge proportions, but it doesn’t come with entitlements; It does come with responsibilities though. You are responsible for the decisions you make. If you treat each other with respect and courtesy, then you Might get some back, though there is no one who can force anyone to give it to you. No amount of legislation will make a civil society. People have to want and give that of their own free will. This has turned into a rather long answer and so I think I will expound on it as a whole post in one of my blogs….. the political one, I guess. Thanks for writing this excellent piece,and good luck with your travels and your power phone use.

  36. i work at a public library and i’ve been championing the cause of phone charging for the patrons for quite a while. security guards and some staff members would relish the opportunity to tell folks to un-plug their phone. i finally won by reasoning with the powers-that-be that the patrons were using the services. they let folks plug their laptops in at laptop stations so why not let them plug their phones (mini mini laptops) in as well?

  37. it is strange – I’ve noticed that too! I worked in a cafe for a few hours last week (eating and drinking there throughout) and when I asked to plug in my laptop the manager made a huge deal of saying “just this once… as it’s you…” like I was somehow stealing something very precious! I am pretty sure the profit he made on all the coffees I ordered more than covered the couple of pence extra on the electricity bill.

  38. But you were stealing something precious! the fact that you didn’t steal so much of it doesn’t make any difference. It is still using resources that aren’t yours. Didn’t you take a little milk and sugar for home too? Don’t be surprised if the price of coffee increases to cover the extra cost of you freeloaders!

  39. It is perhaps only an American thing, although I have not personally experience it. But in most Asian countries that I have been to, no one considers it rude at all to charge a phone at a lobby area. In fact, many places now provide a free charging station with several outlets options. Grow up Americans, and learn to share!
    Congrats on being FP!

  40. I guess I don’t understand some people’s arguments that you are “stealing” the electricity by plugging in your phone for twenty minutes. You’re there to do business, right? Are you also stealing electricity by basking in the artificial light provided by their overhead fixtures? I think this is just a case of people liking to boss other people around. Some folks get their kicks by condescending to others, and a favorite way to do this is to pretend that YOU’RE the rude one. So I say, shrug it off. :-)

    PS: You have a great blog, and I’m happy that Freshly Pressed made me find it!

  41. I’m a tad amused at how you received so many comments for this one, and all in one day too! But I enjoyed reading your post. I’m a super user too. My phone + laptop = office. By late morning, I hit ‘gotta conserve’ mode. So I started carrying a portable charger (credit card size, many times thicker) and although I resisted buying it at first (after all, I already carry a hard drive and laptop around!), it’s eased the stress I get when my phone is about to die. And now, I’d rather use it than get chained to a corner where my phone/laptop’s plugged in. It’s nice being self-contained, no? As to whether it’s okay to plug in to an unused socket… well, you didn’t see a sign, did you? :)

  42. When I read your blog two thoughts came to mind, first is this a territorial problem like this is my building , my property or I am the authority kind of thing, or they have experienced a lot of people plugging in to charge on the daily basis and is making a dent on their electricity bill. ?. What is the right answer I do not know but from now on as we go almost everything mobile in our culture we are going to experience a different set of etiquette rules.

  43. So if I plug my phone in at work for a “juice up” (as my daughter calls it), I could be in trouble for misappropriating company property. I think your idea that if you have business in that facility, you should have access to use their resources. And Starbuck’s and other dining places are missing the boat by not being the first coffee shops/restaurants to have a 25 cent charging station. Put in a quater, get an hour in the plug-in. You cannot tell me they would not make a killing. Verizon had charging cabinets at the Super Bowl. I thought that is genius. And charging an easy to give up quarter for waht will most of the time be less than one hour’s use….come on people!
    Great blog…loving it! Congrats on FP…seems like this one really struck a nerve for lots of people. I do not see how anyone can think you are stealing something that is out in the open and available. Perspective I suppose.
    Have a great one and enjoy!!! AmberLena

  44. Great article… I would respond to anyone challenging anyone on the use of “outlets” to charge by strongly stating that our transactions / our business is what keeps everyone employed and enjoying the fruits of a prosperous environment! Cheers and thanks.

  45. I’m surprised you haven’t run into this yet, but my mom plugged her phone in at Barnes and Noble once and was chided and told if she did it again she would be charged with theft of electricity.

  46. That is very strange… I would never imagine it being considered ‘rude’ to charge your cell phone in a public place. Here I’ve even seen a laptop left unattended while it charged in the food court. Luckily the whole time I was there no one decided to steal it.

    I know of some small cafes not allowing laptops plugged in because it will raise their electricity bill so much, but if this place can afford a security guard it can afford to allow you to charge your phone.

  47. geez people- did anyone realize that outlets are in lobbies as BUILDING CODE REQUIREMENTS? and not for your personal charging use?

    Usually I ask if its ok to charge something, but I can’t remember a time I have ever received a no.

    I have to admit that it was only last night that I saw a kid at TD Garden in Boston, not sitting in his seat watching the game and cheering, but sitting by the concessions, charging his phone- and I was really bothered by it. I don’t know if my outrage at this was more that he was “stealing energy” and “cluttering space” or the fact that he was missing an amazing game for the sake of a few text messages. I mean I hate to be the all righteous one here but – Can you really not make it through a few hours without a phone?

    All this being said, I guess the smart person would read this post and start to patent a lockbox cover for outlets… seems like a popular accessory for the future!

  48. Technically, it’s not rude,but it is considered theft of service. Electricity is a service that they pay for. Building owners and management buiild in the cost of bathroom use. They do not build in the cost of random people using electrical outlets put in place for convenience of the building janitorial staff and any other special use they deem necessary. That said, I know it and I still do it all the time. LOL Especially in the casinos in Las Vegas!!! Haaa I have on occassion asked, and I have not yet been denied. Howwever,I anticipate that I would probabaly get salty if so denied. SO they are right we are wrong, but I am not going to stop plugging in… ; )

  49. I would say in most cases, it’s a pretty ridiculous rule and just plain bad PR — particularly if this is an office you’re doing business with, such as a doctor’s office. Charging a phone is a negligible use of energy ( http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_green_lantern/2009/10/you_charged_me_all_night_long.html ) and if businesses were that serious about you not consuming any extra electricity, then all waiting areas would be kept dark and would have no climate control or water fountains!

  50. Sorry to keep banging on about this, but I really can’t understand how anyone could be confused about this issue. If you go to a cafe, or airport, hotel lobby, or somewhere like that, where the ‘offer’ – in addition to food, coffee, accommodation etc. could reasonably be expected to include extended computer or mobile use – then I would be surprised if the place didn’t already offer charging facilities. Or at least wouldn’t complain if I asked to do that.

    If however, you go to somewhere that isn’t a meeting place, or a cafe or something like that, then clearly an unlabelled, unattended socket is not intended as a mobile device charging station, and would not be included in the ‘offer’ of the business – would it?

    For example: The dry cleaners. The deli. The shoe repair shop. The supermarket. The garage. The DIY store. I could go on…
    Most or all of these places will have unlabelled, unattended sockets which surely are not intended for device charging. I suspect that you wouldn’t use those. Or should I think – well why is that there if they don’t want me to charge my phone / laptop / toothbrush? There’s no sign that says don’t do it!

    Unless I am much mistaken, there is also no sign that says that you have to pay for goods in a shop – it’s just kind of accepted.

    Or am I wrong about that too?

  51. The outlets are there for that building to use whenever owners/renters of that building need the outlets. I find it rude to just use any old outlet simply because it is there. That is like saying my neighbor can wash his car or water his grass with my water hose attached to my faucet. It is just there after all.

    What is rude is a world in which the occupants treat every resource as their own.

  52. Electrical outlets in lobbies of buildings are meant for floor polishers and miscellaneous emergency uses. A simple request to use one is in order. Have you thought of the carbon footprint you leave the building owner to deal with? Every microvolt of power has an effect on the whole. “One tiny little phone can’t do that much harm, can it?” Think of the effect if every phone in the world was charging on that outlet. Not so little anymore is it? Wireless charging will only give power users more stealth, the power will still flow from some unwary owner’s carbon allotment.
    Great thought provoking post for a world not so ready to deal with the issue.

  53. I think that this is a situation involving entitlement and etiquette: Let’s start with a question: In exchange for your patronage at a private business establishment, are you entitled to use the facilities and utilities, or does the money you’ve exchanged for a product or service entitle you only to the product/service for which you’ve paid? Let’s use the $2.83 you might spend on a cup of coffee as an example. What does the price of the cup of coffee include? How long are you entitled to consume electricity and to linger at a table once you’ve consumed your coffee? What would common business etiquette dictate? Cultural and generational differences result in a variety of assumptions about what defines lingering and patronage versus what defines loitering and abuse. Just because you can park yourself in a booth with a cup of coffee at a coffee shop or cafe from dawn until dusk following the purchase of a cup of coffee, doesn’t mean you should.

    Then again, we’re living in an increasingly mobile and virtual business environment. Enjoying the benefits of being as productive as possible out of office makes life easier and it provides an adrenaline rush.

    There are a number of ways that a business can politely raise public awareness about use and abuse of amenities offered. A small sign which states, “As a courtesy to other guests and to help us maintain this free service, please limit your use of our complimentary electrical outlets to 20 minutes”. If this sounds as if someone’s talking down to you or trying to cramp your style, consider how much nicer that message is than “No public electricity use allowed”.

    Only YOU can prevent Policy. I try to heed my Mom’s advice from long ago: Be polite, share, ask for permission and don’t overstay your welcome.

  54. That’s just weird. I work in a hotel and I get much more upset by kids watching movies on their ipads or playing loud games right in the check in area. THAT is rude. But quietly charging your phone? Perfectly acceptible.

  55. I think that’s totally bizarre. I think the biggest argument in your favor is that the outlets are there, in a public area, and not being used…so why not? Are they just for looks?

    Very strange.

  56. Sounds like the place has had a lot of strangers just wandering in off the street to plug in. With someone who has business there, it’s another matter. That’s the point of asking. You establish that you have another reason to be there, and are not just bumming a charge.

  57. You must have an Android phone. I have a Samsung SCH-R910 and it eats battery time alive on voice, slightly less so for data. So it has to be tethered to an electrical outlet.

  58. I get your anger and I do understand for the need to plug in but I do also find it very annoying when I am out and about and everyone’s focus is on their phone and the need to plug it in. the tangled cables everywhere are not pretty. But if you got to plug it in, plug it in

  59. Apparently we need for pay charging stations. Given that your talking about lobbies where you likely didn’t buy anything, I can see this as different than doing the same where you bought a expensive cup of java. Some of it is a power trip too though (pun consider and intended).

  60. Apparently we need for pay charging stations. Given that your talking about lobbies where you likely didn’t buy anything, I can see this as different than doing the same where you bought a expensive cup of java. Some of it is a power trip too though (pun consider and intended).

  61. This reminds me of a time I was at Fedex using one of their pay-by-the-minute desktops. There was a guy sitting next to me who was also doing his research while he had his iphone plugged into the usb port ( charging his phone) The sales rep happens to pass by and says” Are you charging your phone?!” he says, “no, im uploading my files.” She says, “OK, a lot of people tend to come in here only to charge their phones!.” He goes,” well im not one of them!” She then starts this whole ordeal about him being “rude,” kicks him out, AND calls the police. I didn’t know whether to laugh or be upset.

  62. I loved this post :)

    I have been in many situations where my phones lousy batteries have drained out. Especially Airports, Hotels, Doctors Offices and the likes. Only once have I ever had someone say I couldn’t plug my phone in, but even in that instance the person offered to charge it for me. I wonder now if it’s because I usually ask them to do it for me? I mean, I have definitely plugged my cellphone up in places I know for sure allow it, but usually I don’t ask if I can plug it in. I just ask the nearest employee if they can charge it for me and not only will they do it, they often watch the phone for me if I am busy with other things. Some will offer to let me use the outlet nearest to me and others will actually plug it in behind their desk for me. I wonder if the “because I asked” factor makes the difference. I personally do no feel its stealing if you are a patron of their establishment, especially in Hotels. In fact I think it’s a poor idea to be so petty with customers you would refuse to let them charge a phone. I have found most Airports to be very accommodating in the U.S. for travelers when it comes to recharging their electronics. I remember once, when I couldn’t find an outlet, an attendant even making a call for me to reach my ride who was trying to find me; I thought she was wonderful and it made my day, which left me with fond regards to the airport and it’s services. :)

    It would be nice if more businesses were so thoughtful to their customers and realized how it can benefit them! We have definitely become a “wired” generation and you would think most businesses would want to appeal to the broad market of electronic carrying consumers. I know I would! :)

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I think it was a great topic!

  63. I can see their point of view. Even though such places are for public use, they aren’t publicly owned. I think if you extend the courtesy of simply asking, most places will say yes. If they say no, well, that’s their prerogative. New tech, new questions!

  64. With regards the whole “why are they there if they don’t want you to use them?” question, its likely they were pre-built before the room was given a function. Still strange that they object though, how much electricity can you be costing them? Unless you visit every day, maybe you’re leaving something out? :)

  65. Heh heh, despite our technological advances we’re still the same incourteous scoundrels of yesteryear my friend. Well written.

  66. oh man, one time my phone died while i was lost in new york city and i had to pull over in an illegal spot, run into a pizza shop, and beg them to let me use their outlet for a few minutes while i nervously watched my car and charged my phone. hot mess. but they were actually shockingly nice about it…and i completely agree with your confusion.

  67. Coffee-shops, airports, libraries, and subways also benefit from generally being considered widely open to public gathering. If you have a room at a hotel, charge your phone in your room like everyone else. Why are you sitting around hotel lobbies? They generally don’t like people who aren’t guests gawking at their customers for no reason. If you are guest, again, why not just charge in your room. I see very few practical reasons for desperately needing to use lobby outlets.

  68. I’ve read through all of these comments and I feel that being polite is the key to this. Ask and then you stay and recharge or you go somewhere else. It’s not just one person who may be recharging at that business/hotel. If you have 10 or more recharge, the cost goes up. It may be a problem for many people, but there should be a recharger that you pay for and have in your car/office/briefcase. You may get frustrated but a person working at this business may get peeved or may be directed to say something to anyone using the outlet. So to echo many of your readers, ask, be polite and things may work out for you. It seems such a small thing but don’t just feel you are entitled to use it, just because it’s there. I always say “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes”. Congrats on getting Fresh Pressed!

  69. I work in the service industry for a world wide hotel chain, it’s pretty much expected that people need to plug in. Some people expect you’ll even find a charger. In your case, I don’t see anything wrong. I in Canada we’re pretty easy going; I say keep on plugging.
    All the best

  70. I have to agree with many other folks here—the “When in doubt, ask” policy would be the best one to follow. Although the “guard’s” argument that the alarms would get set off is pretty ludicrous.

    Enjoy being Freshly Pressed–congratulations!

  71. If this is the new trend and the quibbles over courtesy are really financial considerations (as some are suggesting), it would not be surprising to find businesses creating “charging apps” for smart phones, where businesses turn a profit from those who choose to charge on the run (they could even charge you $0.99 to download the app and then, say, charge $0.30 for every 10 minutes of charging).

    That said, the money side of things really doesn’t make a great deal of sense. If a an iPhone uses around 6 watts to recharge in an hour and a kwh is around $0.15, then the cost is marginal, even if phones are constantly charging. The issue seems to be more of a social and public/private space issue than one of financial responsibility. It will be interesting to see if this feeling continues to grow, or if you’ve just been unlucky.

  72. Because, since 9/11, every security guard, rent-a-cop, airport personnel, etc. has a weed up their a**, and are just making up rules about nonsense…as illustrated by your guard’s “alarm” comment. I’m a media producer, and in my world it’s tripods. Now you can’t set up a tripod anywhere without some petty authoritarian guard in your face.

  73. That is total BS. Apparently, you can’t sit on the floor of some buildings, even if your shoe falls off and you’ve got to put it in its place. The security guards will come and yell at you.

  74. I don’t know if someone already commented to this effect, but there’s a cafe in my town (a college town) that offers free wifi but has blocked (filled-in) ALL the electrical outlets available to the public. The reasoning being that you can use the wifi on your computer until the battery runs out – helps avoid the problem of the people who order a small coffee and stay all day on the internet. Still, it was the last straw (after repeated bad service) for me.

  75. I couldn’t be bothered reading EVERY reply, but basically, if I was at an establishment that wouldn’t let me use their outlet for a 10-15 minute phone charge, they’d be losing my business.

    However, I do understand if it’s a place like Starbucks who have free WiFi, and someone comes in and only buys a small coffee and stays all day. Kinda. To some extent.

  76. In some offices or companies, I think it comes down to company policy. When I started with the company I am at now, we all came to work one morning to find “I Suck” cards on our monitors. Everyone that left the computer running overnight had one. People who shut down the computers but didn’t turn off the monitors as well had one. Our computers can take up to ten minutes to get going in the mornings. So people would use restart at the end of the day instead of shut down. It saved a lot of time in the morning. But the company wanted all computers to be shut down and all monitor turned off. I think some of the businesses might see plugging in your charger as stealing power from them. So they don’t want people to do it. They may have a policy in the employee handbook. But the business visitors would not have access to the info. I agree, it is a petty thing. Especially for people who travel to them to do business. They should let them charge.

  77. I don’t see there being any problem with these places not allowing patrons to plug in their devices. You ask why they have them, well maybe they use them for wax machines or vacuums or for whatever other reason they may have for using them. I think that it is asking to much to have patrons ask if it be alright if they plug in their devices, you aren’t paying for the electricity that is going out, so Why not just ask politely if you may plug in your device. Doesn’t hurt anyone to be polite :) and it wastes almost no time.

  78. That’s interesting. It sounds like these people are looking upon your unasked-for-phone-charging in the same way someone might look at a house guest that uses your bathroom without kindly asking first. They probably feel it’s a sort of invasion of their privacy (even though these are public places), because when all is said and done these lobbies are sort of a home-away-from-home for them. It’s stupid, sure, but sounds like a weird territorial thing. I mean, if you ask them first are they usually totally cool with it?

  79. I like this post, and agree with your sentiments. Recently, my husband and I have experienced something similar when using our laptop computer (which has an old, worn-out battery). We go to restuarants to buy a meal and use their free wifi. A particular chain (whom I won’t embarrass by posting their name) often has no plug ins. And when they do, we have increasingly been told that we have to unplug our laptop because the plug ins are not for customer use! But why do you have wifi if we can’t plug in? Take it from cafes and coffeeshops – the more plug in space you have, the more customers you will have using your wifi, which means more business!

  80. Just wanted to mention to those asking what the outlets are for – they are for the cleaners. I work at an electrical engineering company and we design power layouts for these types of buildings. So yeah, that’s exactly what they’re for.
    But I think you should be able to use them, although I don’t see any harm in asking the staff first :)

  81. I’m going to chip in my two cents here and say the same thing several other people have said.

    Yes, it is good manners to ask first, especially if it isn’t stated somewhere just what complimentary services are offered.

    BUT…if you are a paying guest, and it is NOT stated that they don’t want you using the outlets:
    Well, I’m going with the “using the building’s restroom” argument. I’m aiming this one at the “theft of electricity” defense and similar comments.
    If you are a paying guest of a hotel, do you ask if you can use their restroom, or do you feel “entitled” to use it?
    Aren’t you using the hotel’s toilet paper? The hotel’s water? The hotel’s soap? The hotel’s towels or paper towels? And yes, the hotel’s electricity (to run the water pump, the hand dryer, even the lights if they are not already left on all the time).
    I’m trying to understand why, exactly, charging up your phone is supposed to be worse than using the restroom?
    I’ve seen the “uncluttered look” response, and the “outlets are required in the building code” responses; I’m not asking about either of those. I’ve seen the “lobby versus other rooms” responses; I fail to see why the specific room matters (unless it’s your own room versus some other guest’s). This is specifically about the “taking without permission is stealing” comments.

  82. Maybe you are accustomed to the coffee shops/airports/libraries etc. that have no problem with it, but I don’t understand why that would be considered rude when the outlets are plainly reachable and in sight. I could understand if you were doing a furniture move, or as you said, setting up an entire workstation, but that doesn’t make sense.

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed! :)

  83. I agree if you are using the services of that particular location – coffee house, library, books store, etc then you should be able to charge your phone. Phones are so intertwined to our existence, most of us would emotionally die if the battery went dead haha

  84. Pingback: Just What are We Entitled to Anyway? « Defining Values for Politics

  85. My opinion is that if you don’t have to crawl under tables or move objects in order to get to the outlet (which could look suspicious in a business) then it’s ok to use. I don’t believe that you are driving up the cost of their electric bills that much- if that’s what they’ve told you in the past as well.

  86. I think you’re right. But I think it is a bit rude when you have trash and then you ask someone if they can throw their trash in your trash container. That’s not their trash. That’s your trash. So when you’re using their electricity, it’s their power not yours. The library and the coffee shops openly have their things your usage of your convince. These business don’t. They don’t even like to share their restrooms.

  87. In my country, especially in my workplace we usually charge every plugging of laptop and cellphone but we advise the guest in a good manner and we never yell out on the guest but on my humble opinion better if you carry a travel charger it has 4 double A battery then whenever you go you can charge your cellphone even on the road…plus bring extra battery to avoid charging all the time…or replace your handset with a new one maybe your battery is not good quality or too old…im a sales person and I understand what you are going through but in my case I purchase a new battery whenever im low battery…

  88. It wouldnt surprise me if they would want to start trying to charge for something like that. I like your equivalent of throwing away a gum wrapper or something in their trash can! HAHAHA. Maybe they could do like they did in the renegade infantile years of the internet, go to a cafe and get charged like a dollar a minute! I really hope that guy who posted above is right and wireless charging is in our near future!

  89. People challenging that the phone wasn’t charged – do you own a smartphone? I’m a student, and if I check Facebook, send a few texts, and make ONE call during the day, it’s dead by night time. If I happen to need to take a photo of something for reference, use it for directions, or make multiple phone calls, it’s very nearly dead by mid morning. I have two batteries also to try and combat this issue but it still happens.

    These phones die quite fast, so I carry my charger with me everywhere. You never know when you might need it.

  90. Well the extra plugs 20 years ago would have been for a vacuum cleaner. And while the cost of the utility bill for a business is tax deductible it still takes a chunk out of the operating cost for the bean counter who has to account for the usage increases. And as for the coffee costing more than the recharge: don’t forget your business owner is also paying for the barista to stand there and look at you all cock-eyed because you want yours a half-cafe… as if that never happens.

    The uproar, friends, is because all the talk about going green and reducing carbon footprints has bean counters bug-eyed about phone chargers being plugged in because of the huge power draw. Our bean counter has a coronary when the lowest ones on the totem pole plug in their phones and doesn’t even blink when the “superstars” have theirs in. Libraries and coffee shops expect you to use them as a mini office away from the office. But other people don’t really appreciate it. Of course not everyone is going to care if you use the outlet. The people who realize that the outlets are kinda like using the bathroom won’t care. But the one who do care are the ones getting chewed on by their bean counter. It is unfriendly to be sure. But it is the owners perogative.

  91. If you can manage to take me out of the building, you can take my charger out of your silly wall. Until then, back up. Reading WP blogs and writing keeps my iPhone on “dead” and your silly little rules on the side-lines.

  92. people are weird. it’s not rude to use the power outlet when you are utilizing their facility. it’s weird and rude that they are chasing you down with a $15/hour security guard to make sure that you don’t use .39¢ of their electricity waiting to pay for the service you are there to use (dr – $80/15 min, dentist – $75/cleaning, lawyer – $150/hr, counselor – $60/hr, etc.)

  93. Hello all! I know that most of you found this post through the “Freshly Pressed” section of the WordPress.com homepage. Thank you so much for visiting. My stats say that you all are indeed checking out the rest of the blog, so I won’t bother encouraging you to do so (but you should), and I look forward to forging blogosphere “relationships” with however many of you decide to stick it out for a bit and see what I (and this blog) am about.

    But anyway, some clarification about this post…

    I’m a social worker, so many of these cell phone-charging controversies take place in one of three places: medical office lobbies, governmental agency lobbies, or the lobbies of office buildings in which a client of mine has an appointment. Just for clarification, I wasn’t talking about hotels.

    Here are the details about the incident I referred to above: I had to take a client to get a new Social Security card. The Social Security Office is on the 20th floor of an office building in the middle of downtown Philadelphia. We went up to the 20th floor, got the card and went back down to the lobby. We then needed to get to South Philadelphia, and so I plugged in my phone to reserve a rental car from my company through the mobile web site. This is when the guard yelled at me.

    This has happened several other times in medical offices. The most frustrated someone got was in a gynecologist office. My client was in getting her check-up while I was in the lobby (I couldn’t be in there with her, of course) and I had the charger plugged into the wall, and the phone in my bag–I wasn’t even using it at the moment. And the guard came by and really embarrassed me about this.

    So just to make clear: I’m not referring to simply walking into a random building and plugging in. I do think that would be rude. I’m talking about using the outlet of a building of which you are utilizing their services.

    2 more things before I go:

    1) I know in the post I compared this to using their bathroom, but admittedly, there are times I would ask before using the restroom at a certain place. I think a better way of explaining how I view this is closer to the item I listed above of throwing your trash in their trash can. Do you need to ask before throwing your coffee cup or gum wrapper in their trash? They pay for trash removal services, right? And so, technically, I’m contributing to the cost of this service. It’s out there, not being used (and I also know that the outlets are not necessarily there simply for public use and were there long before cell-phones were around). Many people compared this to walking in someone’s house and simply using their bathroom. I agree that that would be weird. But what if someone walked in and through their trash in your trash can? Is that rude? So for all those that defended this reaction of the security guards with arguments about cost, “it’s just better to ask”, and “just be polite”: do those arguments still stand when talking about throwing something in the trash? If so, why? If not, what makes it so different? And which analogy would be a better fit for cell-phone charging.

    2) Lastly, this post wasn’t necessarily meant to be a defense of cell-phone charging. It was a genuine question: is this rude? I wrote because this idea that it was rude was a complete shock to me. For some reason, it just completely caught me off guard. There are many things I feel like I SHOULD be able to do, or that I would feel absolutely justified doing, but are still considered by society at large as rude (putting my feet up on the table or the chair in front me is the example that comes to mind). I was just trying to get a feel for what society has decreed about this, and I feel like I got my answer:

    it may not be rude to do it, but it might be rude not to ask.

    Thank you all, but still feel free to keep the comments flowing!

  94. actually for me personally it’s not as long as you get permission..this is really depends on how hospitable they are in that establishment. Honest, i was a little shock knowing that there are security guards yelling out…maybe it really depends on the culture as well as the owners prerogative….The action of the employees are depends on the instruction of their BOSS…..:)

  95. Also, consider that our litigious society has made building managers paranoid about any way that people might use the building. I can see some scam artist walking in with a fried phone and saying: “Hey, your faulty wiring fried my phone. You have to buy me a new one!” It’s cheaper to pay him off than to make the building manager take a day off for small claims court.

    So… they might want the chance to talk to you about “at your own risk” before letting you plug in.

  96. It is very common these days for individuals to feel entitled. Having to be as polite as our parents and grandparents considered normal is frequently seen as unnecessary. How were we raised this way? How were they raised that way? Was there a good reason once upon a time that nobody would dream of putting feet up on the table? Yes, there was a damn good reason. Without modern medicine, dirty shoes on the table were (pretty close to) life-threatening. Each of the common-sense rules was designed to prevent a threat of some kind (physical, mental, social). If you so threatened your neighbors, you would be outcast. But now we have antibiotics that we eat like candy. The threat is not eliminated, but minimized enough to be easily ignored by those who care to. I don’t care if you do it to me so I’m entitled to do it to you. I get to decide. ME ME ME.
    It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. But it’s not right. It’s essentially cheating. And it feels like cheating. You know it — you feel it. But you’ve learned that there’s usually no consequences, so you keep cheating.
    This is not unusual or abnormal. This is not necessarily a bad person. This is the new normal, because young adults are the biggest consumers, so young adults, who don’t yet have a broad perspective of society, are catered-to.
    Sure, in the best of all possible worlds, we would all treat each other with grace, courtesy and generosity, sharing the abundance of our cheap energy. But it is indeed rude to assume that you are entitled to anything that you have not already earned.
    Just ask first, and then there’s nothing to assume. If someone says, “No”, then you understand your relationship with that resource — it’s not an offense to you unless you feel entitled, as if that resource is already yours and the “No” is taking away your resource. (which, of course, is the factual incongruity you wish to avoid by not asking)

  97. Well the extra plugs 20 years ago would have been for a vacuum cleaner. And while the cost of the utility bill for a business is tax deductible it still takes a chunk out of the operating cost for the bean counter who has to account for the usage increases. And as for the coffee costing more than the recharge: don’t forget your business owner is also paying for the barista to stand there and look at you all cock-eyed because you want yours a half-cafe… as if that never happens.

    The uproar, friends, is because all the talk about going green and reducing carbon footprints has bean counters bug-eyed about phone chargers being plugged in because of the huge power draw. Our bean counter has a coronary when the lowest ones on the totem pole plug in their phones and doesn’t even blink when the “superstars” have theirs in. Libraries and coffee shops expect you to use them as a mini office away from the office. But other people don’t really appreciate it. Of course not everyone is going to care if you use the outlet. The people who realize that the outlets are kinda like using the bathroom won’t care. But the one who do care are the ones getting chewed on by their bean counter. It is unfriendly to be sure. But it is the owners perogative.


  98. I dont tend to plug my phone in, in lobby’s but I have been known to use the plug sockets on trains – even the ones that say not for public use. I try to be as discrete as possible and so far no one has ever noticed or said anything to me

  99. As a totally unrelated aside: I’m happy to see someone who says “I love Jesus” in their description getting freshly pressed. I had this theory that the reason I couldn’t was that I kept injecting theological thoughts into my posts about . . . I dunno . . . getting my nails done or something.

    Crap. Now I have to figure out some OTHER reason why I can never get freshly pressed.

    Anyway. I think flaking out about someone charging their phone in your business lobby is a little extreme, but since people are proving to you that they do, I guess it couldn’t hurt to ask, right?

  100. Have you wondered if there is consistency in security’s enforcement of a “don’t use the outlet” request?

    If you’re up for it and can enlist a friend (or client) to assist with very anecdotal pattern gathering, you could have a female be the one charging the phone. She could re-enact what you’ve done in those places or even pretend to be on the phone with varying degrees of “important” people (family member, lawyer, therapist, child). If the female receives no security attention while in the same buildings buildings you’ve been, you could take it up a level and have her bring an electric toothbrush to charge. ^_^

  101. A couple of things come to mind after reading your post –
    * consider carrying an extra charged battery with you so you can swat out the depleted one
    * search google for wireless cell phone chargers, they appear to exist
    * most medical facilities including doctors offices have signs asking patrons to turn off their cell phones so its no surprise to me that they would object to you trying to recharge your battery

  102. Yes, that sounds a little bit over the top. I could imagine it would be a bit of a “thing” though, if the company is trying their utmost best to save on costs left and right. People tend to start panicking and want to save costs in every possible stupid way, it appears. I wouldn’t be too arsed by security guards that tell you to unplug; give them the straight “oh, I didn’t know that, so sorry!” face and do it all over again next possibility. A. they’re probably just doing their job and doing it too zealously and B. what are they going to do? If you’re there for a reason then surely, they don’t want to throw you out because of something like this, right?

    if they’re prone on still denying you, maybe they could show you the houserules of said building which explicitly cites that there shall be no phone-charging in the lobby? :P

  103. Okay, the blogger’s clarification changes some things, but I think not much.
    Given the hotel example that many of us were assuming, the customer is paying for the benefit of being there. Not for being in the lobby, of course, but for being allowed to stay in a particular room; the lobby is the “public” part of the hotel, as public as anything can be in privately owned business.
    In medical offices, etc, the customer is paying for a service, not the location. The location might be of some benefit (how clean the environment is, for instance), but the service would presumably be the same at any other location.

    But to answer the blogger’s new questions, I still say the bathroom is a more accurate analogy than trash, given the details mentioned in my earlier comment.
    The business (presumably) pays a given amount to have the trash disposed of, and that cost is not going to change one penny whether or not I toss in my snotty tissues or fast-food wrappers. On the other hand, with using the restroom facilities, just like with charging your phone, you are USING UP a resource that the business has to pay for, one that the business has to pay to replace. A resource whose cost changes according to how much is used.
    Which brings me back to my own question: why is charging one’s phone (ethically) any worse than using the public bathrooms in that business?

    Now, since we’re talking medical offices and government buildings, I can actually understand the “security risk” argument the one guard made.
    Why? Because the computer I’m on right now is connected to the internet through the POWER LINES. Granted, it requires a set of adapters, a router, and a modem to do it, all of which is going to be a lot more obvious than a phone. And granted, many phones can get online without any of that, and clearly wouldn’t need to plug into the power line to do it. And granted, I don’t know how or why it works. But me not knowing how it works means I can imagine someone more tech-savvy hacking things to require a lot less gear.
    And there’s a fair chance those guards won’t know how it works, either, that they only know enough to know it DOES work…and that there might be a reason such a hacker would use the power lines rather than the phone’s own web capabilities.

  104. While I understand the power argument, it is certainly commonplace in our device-heavy culture to plug in wherever you are. It is absolutely their right to deny you access to their power, but they would do well to gently explain rather than react with condescension. Better yet, perhaps businesses who don’t want people to plug in should post small signs right next to outlets stating that they are for maintenance staff only. This would avoid the whole messy social interaction completely (unless, of course, someone proceeded to plug in, at which point indignant security staff would be warranted).

    We are humans, we recognize patterns and make inferences. It’s fair to infer that since plugging in is commonly allowed, it would be allowed in this case. I would have been surprised by this reaction as well! Great post! I haven’t run into this yet; it will be interesting to see how our society handles this going forward.

  105. It happens all the time at the Hotel I work at. No problem with people using those plug ins for their laptops or phones.
    The plugins are there for a reason.

  106. I’m kind of torn over this one. In the airport, I would like to think that the outlets are free for use because many people don’t get power outlets by their seats in airplanes, and it would be great to charge up your devices so that you can use them inflight later. I think the same way about hotels. People in hotels are often on the go and you need to charge their devices whenever they can. On the other hand, electricity is kind of expensive though, so I usually ask before plugging stuff in.

  107. I say go for it. I wouldn’t ask an employee in a busy New York City office building lobby, “May I plug my phone in over there?” It just seems like a common occurrence. I also think of airports, which really promote and advertise the prevalence and use of charging stations and power outlets.

    And I agree with many of the comments I read: electronic use is an emerging area of social etiquette and business practices, which largely has no rules or conventional wisdom at this time.

    I’ve wondered before if there could be any cost savings if one plugged in and charged her electronic devices outside of the home (at work, for instance). It would probably end in excess work for minimal cost savings, but could be an interesting social experiment.

  108. Like the idea of the wireless charger.

    Round here there are charging points, bit like petrol pumps, where you pay to give your phone a drink. Never used one though.

  109. What’s the point of putting/displaying those sockets in public if not for public use?
    It might just be me but maybe it is better to ask politely.

  110. haha, this post is great. I plug my phone in all the time. Didn’t know it was such an outrage.

    Your influence could impact thousands on this – maybe I give you more blog views, and you go click this once?: please “like” Jessie’s page. http://www.facebook.com/jessicajoyrees – children receive JoyJars (jars filled with toys, stickers, books, crayons, etc) in the hospital while they’re facing treatment for cancer – all because of Jessie’s dream! thank you!

  111. Well, I think the only place I’ve really done this is at the airport or a coffee shop. I can’t imagine that a phone sucks up more energy than a light bulb, but I guess in the end it is their energy! Weird how cell phones (and smartphones especially) have affected so many aspects of our lives. I saw a stat that said the majority of people now think texting should be allowed in movie theaters!

  112. For all of you that use your phone on the go and tend to forget or don’t have time to recharge your phone, check this link out and I think it will help you


    or you can check out this one too, which ever one works for you


  113. I don’t plug in my phone in public spaces very often, but when I do it’s normally because it’s an emergency rather than by choice. I don’t think that it’s rude, but it’s inconvenient enough that I need to have a good reason to plug in my phone in the hallway of a store/etc.

  114. I can’t believe the people who can’t fathom why the outlets exist if not for their personal use. Um, who do you think MAINTAINS those nice buildings? Hobbits? Elves? Brownies? There is this entire class of what you would consider uncool, icky people known as maintenance staff. You may have occasionally spotted them. They sometimes use things like vacuum cleaners, floor polishers, waxers, shop-vacs? You know, those things that your mom always tries to get you to operate at home but that you won’t go near?

    That’s what the outlets are for. For the use of the building and those within it. Not for the use of every person who walks past it. I do see the issue with the last decade seeing a sudden explosion of portable electronic devices that all require charging and no concomitant explosion in public stations where this can be accomplished. I can also see why it might be a good thing to have for-pay charging stations set up within building lobbies where people can make use of them, but the building outlets are not those stations. For the moment until public facilities catch up with the demand, you’ll just have to carry extra batteries and stop complaining that you are not entitled to every blasted thing you see in the world.

  115. Oh wow. I’m not sure what I liked better- the blog post itself or the comments. About plugging in– I do it all the time and have never been hassled. Sadly I carry a charger in my purse and separate car charger.

  116. I think traditionally providing electricity is not part of the basic amenities that a building provides to the public such as trash bins, restrooms etc. My personal sense of social norms actually says one should not plug in one’s phone to buildings’ electrical sockets in public places which, to my mind, are mainly there for cleaners to plug in their vacuum cleaners, marble polishing machine etc. In fact, about 10 years ago there used to be machines in malls whereby shoppers could put in a dollar and get 15 minutes worth of juice into your phone. That seems to indicate to me that plugging in to the free power points is not allowed. That said, with phones performing greater function, getting smaller, and hence having shorter battery life these days, there could come a paradigm shift where providing electricity for phones becomes the social norm.

  117. Interesting that you are coming from the perspective of a social worker taking clients to various locations, etc. I previously worked in the social services field for a government agency, and our clients would frequently ask to charge their phones while in our offices. Personally, I never took issue with it. Seems like a perfectly reasonable request to me. However, our agency had an extremely strict policy against it, stating that the burden on the building’s electricity was just too much to bear. That never made a ton of sense to me, but I’m also no electrician, and I have no idea what the actual load of charging a cell phone is.

    It must be a common threat of publicly funded agencies. I know budgets are tight, and it seems like this may be one way to save money. I certainly don’t think what you were doing was rude–I just think it’s something we haven’t had to really think about yet.

    On a similar note, I heard that several popular coffee chains are considering removing outlets from their lobbies to prevent loiterers with cell phones and laptops.

    Ah, modern times.

  118. I’ll tell you right here and now, it has nothing with being rude, or “stealing” electricity. I work at a place that does not allow this. But, it’s not because we do not want you charging your phone, or that we don’t want you to stay connected to the world. It has to do with liability. If there is a suddenly power surge, and your $600 I-phone becomes a brick, due to “our” outlets, who do you think you would blame?

  119. Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

    I too am a power user. I ALWAYS carry my charger with me and through a serendipitous turn of events I found myself with an extra battery. But on those occasions where I need a little extra juice, I have not experienced anything like what you describe.

    If I was confronted however, I would just explain that the outlet has had a drought in it’s love life and it came on to me. ;)

  120. Perhaps true, but aren’t you trying to ride free on somebody elses electricity bill. I would guess that after years of people free loading electricity, the bill might add up. Can I come over to your house and plug in my phone?

  121. I agree with you, if you are there doing business or interacting in some normal capacity with the place you are at, then you have the normal expectation to be able to take advantage of the readily available and unobstructed resources in your vicinity. As you mentioned, if the place you are at has objections to the use of certain unobstructed resources then they owe a common courtesy of using signage to inform you of their objections so that you are able to maintain common acceptable behavior and abide by their wishes. Also if they do object and don’t wish to use signage to keep you from using the resources then they should obstruct the access to the resources, there are plenty of products available to lock outlets if they have such reluctance to share that resource.

    I also am a “power user” of my smartphone and when you are using the 3g/4g connection to keep in contact on the web then the battery does drain very quickly. My smart phone rule is that if I am near an outlet then my phone is plugged in, at my desk, in my car, in my kitchen, my bedside, I’ve even need to plug my smartphone in while in my bathroom.

    Missing an important call, text, or email because of an exhausted battery really really sucks.

  122. I’m sure it’s just another issue that arises as a result of fast moving technology. I can’t imagine it’s an expense issue, because it can’t cost much. Could be over zealous security that need something to do. I will say that when you ask it has positive results. I have been in a resteraunt before and my phone battery extremely low and ask my server if it would be possible to charge it up, I have yet to be turned down. Interesting blog

  123. Electricity is not free. I imagine most places would be happy to oblige in the types of situations described above.
    But common courtesy dictates that it is not for me to make that decision over someone else’s property, it is theirs. Therefore, it becomes incumbent on me to politely ask and respect their wishes.

  124. Electricity costs money so you are helping yourself to something that somebody else has paid for.

    You could argue that if everybody did it then that small amount of juice used per phone multiplied by a dozen customers per day could soon add up to a noticeable amount of cash. For a large chain of coffee shops this may not be a big deal. For a small local business where every penny counts?

    I think is is good business to allow somebody to charge their phone etc in the same way that offering free wifi is good. After all, it doesn’t use that much power but it is also good manners to ask first.

    Electricity costs money, manners don’t.

  125. First time visitor. I wouldn’t say its exactly rude to put your phone on charge when out of your office, but you should probably ask, just to keep everyone on side.

  126. Perhaps taking things without asking first is an American “thang”. Your uncharged phone is your responsibility, not the responsibility of the places you visit. Why not just ask first?

  127. Great post, with a fascinating chain of responses! I’m intrigued to think of all these people leaving home WITH their chargers. How organised! Most offices I’ve worked in have a deficit of chargers – it would be common for an email to be sent around saying, “anyone got a [insert phone brand] charger with them?” So bravo for thinking ahead. And, according to many of the responses above, you are not the only one who does this. I am imagining hordes of people whipping out their phone chargers at every opportunity, in public places and private buildings all over town.

    I’m in the “just ask first” camp. Surely most people would say yes? If there’s no-one to ask, then I suppose it is fine to plug it in. I doubt it’s the cost of electricity that disturbs the people it disturbs, far more likely to be the sense of entitlement or casual appropriation. Trains in the USA have power outlets in them? That’s impressive! It’s a while since I’ve been in a train in Melbourne but I’m pretty sure there are only seats and rails and handstraps. And grafitti. If you run out of juice, you just have to wait.

  128. well done on FP.

    I can understand security issues, and i can understand that stealing is stealing, however why dont some businesses that have open outlets that people feel the need to just plug in, however if i was a security guard/business owner, id probably ask for a few £s or $s not much, definately under $5 to say yeah if you ask and pay up to $5 you may plug in your device whilst you wait for your appointment/your client to arrive, On another basis, although you should have asked and not just plugged in, i think the security guard could have been much more polite with you, maybe he wasnt allowed his mobile or had a bad day, no excuse to take a deep breath and be polite.

  129. Well, let’s see.

    If the security guard is just doing his job because his boss told him to,
    then i guess you don’t even have the right to fight for free charging.

    BUT LET’S BE REALISTIC HERE, there’s you -AND the rest of your organization.
    Even if it’s just you, if everybody else is plugged in at the same time, it could
    cause massive electricity loss from the building itself, then they have to pay for it.

    what if there are more outlets than hard wired stuff?
    What if there were MORE PHONES recharging than what the building can pay for?

    That’s my case, you are not the only one being yelled at here.
    And since you are, the building is probably foreseeing this as a problem beforehand.

  130. I don’t know, I think it’s strange, but at the same time, I wonder if they are asking you to not charge your phone because they are government buildings?

    I see no issue with charging phones/laptops/iPods/iPads in places like Starbucks/libraries/cafes because there isn’t any sensitive information. I could see it being an issue in a government building because you might have a bomb hooked to your phone and blow the place up. You could also short a wire which could cause a fire. For the gynecologist, there is the fear that you might be taking pictures of the women there.

    That is my take on it.

  131. If you’re in NYC and need a charge and a good meal go to the Breslin at the Ace Hotel. They’re not only phone charging friendly but they actually supply chargers if you get seated in the booths.

  132. Sounds like you think you have an automatic right to make somebody else pay for more power just because they have left a power point where you can find it. Does that mean that if they leave some biscuits on the counter that you have the automatic right to pick them up and eat them without paying for them? I suggest you DO ask before using somebodies property and expecting them to pay, -or-, buy yourself a spare phone battery, and charge it, at your own cost, before leaving home.

  133. This is actually so funny! I wouldn’t have the confidence to just plug my phone into a socket wherever I am! Well done! This really made me laugh :)

  134. I once saw a restaurant that specifically put a duplex power outlet and two ethernet ports at all the standup or stool eating spots, as well as at the tables next to walls (most were). This was a few years ago, so I suspect it was for laptops. Wireless and 3G/4G rule the day, now. But the power is still needed.

    They do make rollup solar panels.

  135. That’s strange but i think the reason that they mind , you charging your cell there is because they might be afraid that you’ll lost it and might blame them , or maybe they just dont want to be seen by their boss charging their cells, when there’re not really doing it.
    People these days get annoyed easily.

  136. I am also a power user, companies need to start working on the battery lives of their devices! It seems like battery life is the only thing that isn’t improving!

  137. Pingback: Humbled into Pride (thanks & sorry) {a confession} | the long way home | Prodigal Paul

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