Not so long ago, if a beeper went off in church or at a movie, we assumed it was for a good reason — a doctor being called to a medical emergency, for instance. The beeper may have followed the CB radio into technological obsolescence, but in its place we have the Web-enabled devices.
Today, if one of those sounds an alarm in a public place, we are more likely to think its owner an inconsiderate boob than a local hero.
Things have gotten to the point where people have more hand-helds than hands to hold them. The phrase “left to their own devices” has taken on a new meaning. Cell phones, BlackBerries, and MP3 players now make regular appearances at meetings, at meals and at the recreation center. Is it always rude to use such devices at social events, or are there times when boorishness is redeemed by utility?
Is it rude to read or send text messages during meetings? I’d say it’s a judgment call. Base it on the number of people in the room and how much attention you will draw to yourself. If it can be done discreetly, most people will not have a problem with it. For me, the problem is operator inaptitude. It takes me three times as long to text as it is to call … and half the time I can’t see the screen well enough in marginal lighting. Anymore these days, lighting always seems inadequate.
And if it can’t be done discreetly, what you are saying to the people in the room is, “my phone is more important than you.” Unless you are a firefighter, on-call doctor, or the keeper of our nation’s nuclear launch codes, chances are the world can wait for a more appropriate opportunity for you to check your messages. How wise was the young man who made national news by feeling the need to answer a text while standing at the altar taking his wedding vows?
Woe to the Rotarian in my club who forgets to turn off the cell phone ringer. If your cell phone rings during the meeting, a $5 fine is enforced. Often, it’s not the fine that hurts, but the teasing from fellow club members.
Last spring when I interviewed applicants for seasonal employment at the recreation center, I remember this one young lady who did some texting (very discreetly) while I was answering a question she had for me. She got a text message while I was talking … she looked down and read it and texted a reply. I’m certain that she didn’t have any sense of it being rude. I don’t think she’s doing it to insult me. I take note of it. And, by the way, she’s not working at the recreation center.
The same time that I am in awe of how naturally the younger generation with its all-out embrace of technology can text without looking at the cell phone screen, I feel they are prone to excessive use of electronic devices. I may be wrong in saying that it is the younger generation … it may have little to do with age and everything to do with personality. For some people, the cell phone buzzes, and they have an immediate Pavlovian response: must check message.
These are most likely the same people who open their mail the instant they get home, before they take off their coats. They’re afraid they might be missing out on something. And they are — they are missing out on what’s going on around them.
As we all try to be respectful of others and we’re making up the rules for tech etiquette as we go along, here are some ways to avoid being rude. At all gatherings, social and business, keep your device out of sight and the ringer set to vibrate. Please do not return a call unless it is critical — and in that case, excuse yourself and keep it brief.
At meetings, if it is necessary to access the Internet or certain documents on your lap-top, keep that communication relevant to the discussion. Don’t check your e-mail or surf the Web. It’s distracting to those behind you and disrespectful to the speaker.
When technology butts up against etiquette, don’t get caught in the ranks of the loud, the rude and the twitty.