Texting on the toilet may be a good use of time - but it's a sign we're under too much pressure

Loo texter Katherine Mangu-Ward tackles the etiquette of conducting work and social business in the throne room

Last week, I texted a colleague from the bathroom and then denied it.

I'd written a blog post, sent it to him to proofread, got up to have a wee, and then realised I had omitted a key fact. I didn't want him to set the post live during the 60 seconds it was going to take me to finish my business and wash my hands, so I did what any self-respecting digital native would do. I opened my Google Hangouts app and chatted him to hold the post. When I emerged into our smallish, open-plan office, he immediately called me out on my behaviour – "Did you just text me from the loo?"– and in response I told a flat-out lie. "No," I scoffed. "That would be gross."

But I can no longer live in the shadows, ashamed and afraid. It's time for toilet texters to come out of the (water) closet. Done in the proper spirit, toilet texting/emailing/tweeting/chatting does no harm and is in fact a force for good – not to mention a cultural inevitability.

Here are just a few reasons I take my iPhone to the loo: By doing a smidge of extra work during what were once known as bathroom breaks, I am doing my part to wring the last productivity gains from the IT boom that started in the Seventies and petered out in the early Noughties. I am also doing my part for (a certain variant of rich white lady workplace) feminism, checking the cute pics of my baby sent by my nanny without "stealing" the time from my employer or putting additional burdens on my childless colleagues.

By breaking taboos, I am pushing back against the surprisingly large role that irrational or semi-rational feelings of disgust play in our moral judgments, an essential step in the historical march to a more civilised, pluralistic, and peaceable world (think: the end of prohibitions on miscegenation or sodomy). Gut bacteria, after all, aren't transmissible via email, and proper order of operations and good hand washing should eliminate other hygienic concerns.

Plus, I'm pretty busy.

And you probably are, too. A YouGov/Huffington Post poll last autumn found that half of people aged 18-29 use their phones on the toilet, with 42 per cent of people aged 30-44 and a quarter of people aged 45-64 fessing up to the same behaviour. In 2012, Nielsen reported that 32 percent of 18 to 24-year-old Americans admitted to using social networks while in the bathroom. Last year, a British study (conducted by, admittedly, Sony, which was pushing a waterproof mobile handset) revealed that 75 per cent of those polled said that they used their phone while on the lavatory, and half said they took their handset with them when they had a bath. Fifty-nine per cent of people admitted to texting while on the loo and 45 per cent to sending emails. In Australia, 6 per cent of participants in the 2013 Yellow Social Media Report confessed to logging on to social networks while in the ladies and gents. Loo much information?

These are all people who presumably know that they would suffer social disapprobation for their behaviour, but do it anyway. Which suggests that a layman's version of the economic concept of revealed preference obtains here: Even people who say they disapprove of toilet texting do it, which suggests they value the gains they get from those stolen digital moments more than they're willing to admit. In fact, similar numbers of people text and email in far riskier scenarios. A recent US poll joins dozens of similar studies that have found that about half of drivers under the age of 35 admit to texting while behind the wheel, a number that seems to be going up, not down, despite awareness campaigns and even outright criminalisation of the behaviour in many states.

And nearly everyone eats at their desks these days, combining work with yet another biological function while risking a certain amount of unhygienic revoltingness, right out in the open!

Such behaviour makes a little excretory multi-tasking seem downright harmless.

But perhaps the harm is deeper and subtler. An ever-growing cadre of thinkers and writers worry on behalf of millennials and other device junkies. They fret that we are not taking time for mindfulness, that we are failing to realise the ultimate benefits of woolgathering and other downtime.

Sociologist, TED talker, and amazing French accent-haver (and the inspiration for this diatribe) Yves Morieux suggested earlier this month at a conference that smartphone use on the toilet is a sign that things have gone too far, that we are too stressed, too maxed out. Present on the same panel was Brigid Schulte, author of the new book Overwhelmed.

In language that is unintentionally punnishly relevant to the toilet texting debate, Schulte is concerned about the notion of contaminated time, the lack of flow in our lives. She means that we are no longer enjoying long uninterrupted periods of peace and/or productivity. And sure, if you're sending email from the bathroom because you are actually gripped by a sense of panic that everything will fall apart if you're out of contact for even a second, something has gone very wrong.

But I suspect that many of the millions of people who bring their phones to the can are actually extending periods of productivity in a way that feels natural and non-burdensome. Others may actually be grabbing those moments of serenity that are tough to come by in the modern world, islands of peace or self-determination in an otherwise maddening day.

Our devices are increasingly parts of ourselves. Soon we will be wearing our devices on our faces, trotting to the pot with our Google Glass or Oculus Rift 3.0 goggles already strapped on. The notion that there are times and places where we should be separated from our devices will become increasingly quaint in the not-too-distant future. I, for one, plan to keep conducting work and social business in the throne room, and I look forward to a future where you all join me. (Just not literally.)

A version of this article appeared on Slate.com

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Arts and Entertainment
Pink Floyd on stage at Live 8 in 2005. From left to right: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright
music New album The Endless River set to overtake boyband for most pre-ordered of all-time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Technical Business Analyst/SQL Development - London - Permanent - £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Telecoms Engineer - Telecoms Admin - £35,000 - 5 month FTC

    £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 5 month Fixed Term Contract - Telecommunicati...

    Telecoms Engineer - Telecoms Administrator - London - £26,000

    £26000 per annum + 25 days holiday & further benefits: Ashdown Group: Telecomm...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink