Times Article 032
New Etiquette of Technology
back to the High-Tech Times. Despite dire warnings from my high school
teachers that I needed a lot of practice on my public speaking, today I
give speeches - lots of speeches. I guess it helps that I enjoy technology
and what it can do for my clients. But that same technology can cause some
interesting new etiquette problems.
a talk I gave a few weeks ago, I walked into the meeting room a bit early,
as usual, to do my standard check of the podium, audio-visual equipment,
and other necessities. Pleasantly surprised to find everything in order
for a change, I sat down and began reading the newspaper. A few minutes
later, a man walked in and settled himself into the seat in front of me.
He immediately took out his cell phone and made a call.
quickly became quite agitated, and his voice grew increasingly louder.
Frankly, I found his carrying-on to be quite distracting, and glanced around
to see the reaction of the others who were filling up the room. No one
seemed to notice, and, in fact, I noted that quite a few other people were
using their own phones -- not an unusual scene in today’s connected world.
started the meeting a few minutes later, with a computer-based presentation
containing a few rather loud audio clips. My former seat-mate continued
his conversation, raising his voice to be heard over the sound-track, but
finally ended his call in obvious frustration. After my introduction, I
noted that quite a number of attendees had powered up their laptop computers,
judging from the not-very-muted tones of the Windows startup tones.
sounds were becoming more than slightly distracting, and I requested that
all pagers and cell phones be silenced. To reinforce this, I removed my
own pager and phone, and placed them in my briefcase. This got a bit of
a laugh, and for a few minutes the room was relatively silent; the muted
clicking of laptop keys notwithstanding.
the first pager went off, followed immediately by two phones. As these
three attendees happened to be in the front row, I rather pointed smiled
at them, and waited a moment for what I expected would be the powering
down of the noise-makers. One lady looked at the beeper at her waist, frowned,
and went back to listening to me, leaving her beeper to play Fur Elise.
The second lady appeared rather put-out, but made an obvious effort to
turn off her cell phone and put it in her purse. The man picked up his
phone, and proceeded to start an animated conversation....
rest of the session was accented every so often - too often - by
the tones of various electronic gadgets. In the first two rows alone, I
counted 11 laptops, 17 phones, eight Palm Pilots (or equivalents), and
a rather remarkable-looking guy who was wearing what appeared to be a cross
between a Buck Rogers helmet and a Borg faceplate. And I didn’t even want
to guess how many pagers, voice-activated recorders, and other techno-gadgets
the break, I began musing on the amount of radiation zapping around and
through us to power all these toys, and found myself getting a bit depressed:
first because it was obvious that most of the 150 people in that room were
incapable of mastering the technical skills to change the operating mode
of these devices to vibrate; second because many of the attendees didn’t
care whether they were bothering anyone else; and third because virtually
everyone had to stay connected!
think it was the poet John Donne who wrote, “No man is an island.” And
although I still consider that to be an insightful statement, I’m not sure
that Mr. Donne would quite recognize today just how far we have taken his
observation. Humans are social animals and require interaction with others,
but we sure seem to be developing behavioral patterns that border on complete
not sure that I understand these patterns. Are we trying to do too much,
and are willing to risk irritating others in the pursuit of using every
single second of every single day? Or are we so insecure that we can’t
stand to be “out of the loop” even for a few moments? Or do we just feel
we’re so important that we can do whatever we want whenever we want?
admit that in my industry, I don’t have anywhere nearly as much face-to-face
interaction with other people as I did when I got my first engineering
degree a few decades ago. In fact, the other day I found myself e-mailing
my wife in her upstairs office from my downstairs office....
are my conclusions? It doesn’t really matter. You see, society is changing,
we’re all losing touch with what used to be “normal” behavior, and we’re
busily developing new habits and patterns, for better or for worse. In
fact, it may actually be a good thing that more and more people are telecommuting
from home and on the road: after all, I watched 150 people acting like
there was no one else except them, even in a crowded meeting room.
you see yourself anywhere in here? See you next month.