Say “please” and “thank you.” Be on time. Hold the door for others. The basic rules of etiquette are familiar and, for the most part, well employed. These straightforward guidelines are both defined and engrained in our culture, but today we’re facing a new etiquette challenge. With the introduction of mobile devices and continued technological advances, it seems nobody is quite clear on socially appropriate digital behavior.
Most office workers spend between six and eight hours per day in front of a computer. Mobile users keep their phones within arm’s reach 24/7. Tablet users spend 90 minutes on them each day. While the Internet age has represented a mostly positive shift in our society, our devices have essentially become extensions of ourselves, and somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten our social graces.
We’ve all been in a meeting where, although someone is talking, nobody is listening. Everyone is too busy “multitasking” via phone, laptop or tablet to pay attention, let alone contribute. (Fun fact about multitasking: Only 2 percent of people can actually multitask effectively. The rest are lessening their productivity without realizing it.)
We’ve become less polite when, on the seemingly rare occasion, we interact face-to-face because there are no defined social rules for devices. Some people say that depending on with whom and where you are, it’s socially acceptable to be heads-down on a device. Does that mean it’s OK that 67 percent of people check their email or use mobile web while on a date? Does that mean you should give your boss more respect and attention than your mom when she’s speaking? No. All interactions and meetings are equal, which means, devices down.
Believe me, I’m as engrained in the digital world as anyone, and probably more so than most, as my job revolves around mobile technology. (At this moment, I have three mobile phones, a tablet and a computer on my work desk.) Constant connectivity does not automatically give us the excuse to ignore, half-listen or “multitask” while someone else is speaking. I equate in-hand behavior — email, texting, social networks — to interrupting one conversation to start a new one with someone else. Just because your side exchange takes place in your palm doesn’t make it less distracting or rude.
If you’re going to participate in digital activities during in-person interactions, the polite thing to do is at least announce what you’re doing: “I’m texting Angie to see if she wants to come to the movie with us,” or, “I’m going to add that meeting to our calendars right now.” You get the idea. If you tell people what you’re up to, you give others the satisfaction of knowing that you’re not distracted and disengaged.
We’re about to see another radical technological change with the emergence of wearable technologies like Google Glass and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch. They will once again shift our social behavior. While we’re still defining mobility’s impact on our culture, the basic rules of etiquette remain simple and timeless. If someone’s talking, it is polite to listen. So put down your devices and pay attention, no matter what the situation.
Ashley Twist is the mobile innovation strategist at Engauge, an Atlanta digital marketing agency.
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