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March 7, 2011 • Editorials

Has Technology Made Us Obnoxious or ‘Fun’?

The roll of smartphone users is increasing exponentially, and perhaps not surprisingly the amount of people ignoring what used to be common courtesy has also increased. What I DO find intriguing is that it is extremely likely that many folks who complained about people speaking loudly on cell phones years ago are now doing exactly that themselves!

From a Yahoo report of a Reuters survey:

“The poll of 2,000 adults revealed that most U.S. adults wished people practised better mobile etiquette and found the lack of cellphone manners extremely annoying, even though about 20 percent admitted to poor etiquette themselves.

Nearly 75 percent said the lack of mobile manners has created a new form of public rage and 65 percent admitted they became angry around people who misused mobile devices.

The most annoying behaviours were the use of mobile devices during driving, followed by talking on a cellphone loudly in a public place and walking in the street while texting or talking on the phone.”

For me the issue isn’t so much that someone is walking and talking or texting, but how those acts pull people out of the reality of the situation and often has them doing dangerous things and not paying attention to things going on around them. This was exemplified by the woman who walked into the fountain in the mall.

Of course, this takes on a whole new dimension in a car – studies have shown that driving while fiddling with a cell phone is as dangerous as driving after drinking. Carly recently wrote about the issues related to smartphone fiddling while driving, and I know I lament the death of my 2nd gen iPod Nano as the physical buttons are much easier to navigate than my iPod Touch. As a result I simply start a playlist and listen to it straight through when I drive.

But while being a danger to yourself and others is the obvious problem, the issue of what happens to us as people when we place our technological connections before our real-life connections is troubling.

I have my Droid with me all the time, but my wife knows that when I am in a meeting or in the lab or otherwise unable to take a call that she will leave me a message and then text message me if it is more urgent. If we are doing things as a family, we will only take a call if it is something important, although texting is more tolerated depending on the activity. But of course, since most of the texts that come for my wife and I come from family, it isn’t such a bad thing.

But there appears to be a divide in acceptable practices regarding cell phone usage based on generations. That was something noted by MG Siegler at TechCrunch:

I’d pretend to read the menu or fix my napkin to just be slyly looking straight down at my device beneath her line of sight — you know the drill. And while I was doing that, I would look around. Sure enough, there were a half dozen other people at the tables around me doing the same thing.

Love it or hate it, this is becoming the norm. And when it fully becomes the norm, there will no longer be the same stigma attached to checking your phone at a restaurant. Naturally, my mother refuses to believe this will happen, but it’s happening already. Go out to dinner with people in their 20s or 30s. Or worse, go out to dinner with teenagers.

So let me just say it – Siegler is not just rude, he is a disrespectful liar, admitted through his actions. He knows what he is doing is wrong, and is therefore dishonestly pretending NOT to do it! If it is a new standard, why is everyone hiding it like an alcoholic sneaking drinks from the bottle hidden behind the washing machine?

I bring my smartphone everywhere, and generally I put it out on the table. If I need it, I will use it – above the table, in plain site. Am I any better? Not at all – my wife jokes that I’m having an affair … with my gadgets! But I am honest about my addiction – I use it all the time, but I know enough to put it away when it isn’t appropriate. And generally that means when interacting with other human beings.

Siegler is saying that he is a shamed booze-hound, and that rude lying crack-heads like himself are ‘becoming the norm’. And that when his level of rudeness becomes wide-spread enough, it will become acceptable. Sadly that is true, but striving to be a rude, deceptive idiot doesn’t seem like a lofty goal.

In terms of usage, he does make a clarification:

using your phone in this context does not mean talking on the phone. That is still very frowned upon in restaurants for a very good reason: it’s annoying. A person talking on their phone is making noise, a person using their phone (as in surfing the web, sending texts, using apps, etc) is often doing the exact opposite.

Well … at least there we agree! We had to bring out kids to an event two hours before it started, and because we wanted to sit up front to record, we brought stuff to do. My wife had her phone and nook, I had my Droid and iPad. We alternately chatted, texted, and read. Context – that same thing would have been wholly inappropriate if the two of us were face to face sharing alone time.

Context is critical – my brother was visiting recently, and is going through a rough time in his personal life, so the time we spent was really important. He wanted to check out my Droid and other toys, and he had some cool stuff on his iPhone to share. But again, it was all about sharing – the gadgets and apps never superseded the shared time.

And that is pretty much where I draw the line – if you are pretending to look at a menu so you can scan emails, either you have problems, or you need to find some more engaging company! But don’t pretend that it is OUR problem that you are so absorbed in the trivialities of whatever Charlie Sheen is ‘winning’ on Twitter, or who just posted about a yummy burger on Facebook, or the latest email promising to gain you fame and fortune or whatever … there is a time and a place for everything, and if you can’t see that then YOU are the one with the problem. Just put the freaking phone away and TALK to the people you are with!

Source: Yahoo! Tech News

14 Responses to " Has Technology Made Us Obnoxious or ‘Fun’? "

  1. Carly Z says:

    Mike, this is freaking brilliant! So well said!

  2. I like the comparison to alcoholism; it’s very apt. One sign of an alcoholic is that they try to hide their condition, sneaking drinks out of hidden bottles and cans and trying to pretend otherwise. Sounds a lot like Siegler’s table behavior.

    I too put my phone on the table in plain site. My case is a little odd, in that I’m away from home for two weeks at a time, so I need to be available a lot for “family issues”. As a result, I have made it clear to my boss and co-workers that my iPhone will always be with me, but I won’t break up a meeting by answering it either via text or voice unless it’s a *real* emergency.

    But one thing I’ve noticed: my kids now expect an answer on *everything immediately*. It’s been very difficult to train them that, no, I can’t answer *all the time*. I may be in a meeting with my boss and unable to comment on “how many iTunes you’re allowed to buy”, or I may be driving and so won’t respond. Training them to be more patient has been a difficult task. I wonder how much more difficult it will get in the future. After all, to paraphrase Bill Maher, these kids don’t recognize the sound of a record being scratched because the technology that made that sound obsolete . . . has been made obsolete! They are about 4-5 tech generations removed from my childhood, if not more. Thank God I work in the tech industry.

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