They’re everywhere. All around you. There is no escape.
They’re at home. They’re at work. They’re in the mall, the movie theater, the grocery store. They’re even at school. They never sleep. Never stop.
They . . . are our “personal electronic devices.”
We’ve only had hand-held mobile phones since 1983 (Motorola’s DynaTAC 8000X was the first), and what a change we have seen in human interaction ever since. The effects of this technology are far reaching and dip into many aspects of our lives in both good ways and bad. I thought it would be interesting to examine the issue, not only because of the way this technology affect others, but also because of what I have observed in myself.
There is no doubt that cell phones and their offshoots - the BlackBerry, iPhone, PDAs and the like - have given us what their name implies: mobility. We no longer have to stay glued to a land line if we are expecting a call. We can leave our desk, run errands, work from home, network with the people in our lives pretty much anytime, anywhere. In short, we are Free.
Or are we?
Have you every accidentally left your cell phone at home? How, in the moment that the realization came over you, did you feel? How many of us have felt that sudden wave of something reminiscent of panic, that stab of anxiety when we realize we’ve left our little piece of technology plugged in on the kitchen counter? The entire time we are without it, it nags at us. What if so-and-so (fill in the blank: my boss, my secretary, my spouse, my pool guy) needs me and cannot find me? What if Johnny suddenly comes down with Dengue Fever at school? What if the baby-sitter has a problem? What if . . . ?
Many times, where business is concerned, the anxiety is somewhat justified. Mobility in the business world is a double-edged sword. Yes, we have more freedom away from the office, but we also are at the beck and call of that same office nearly all of the time. No more nine-to-five. In many cases, if we are not on the other end of the line (pardon the archaic expression) we are in big trouble. But what about the necessity of bringing our cell phone into the Ritz for a dinner out with friends? Doesn’t the baby-sitter know where we are? How ever did we survive before 1983? Oh yes, I remember, parents left the number of the Ritz on the refrigerator. How quaint. Of course, this made it much less likely that they would be bothered. It’s much more intimidating to call the restaurant directly than to simply press the speed dial for your cell number. Come to think of it, it’s really easy for your five year old to call your cell at the Ritz because something “wasn’t fair” or “Janie took my Woobie,” without the baby-sitter even knowing. How pleasant for your other dinner companions.
What is truly ironic is that people will treat all the real flesh-and-blood people around them in the most abominable manner in obeisance to this small tyrant in their pocket or purse. How many of these scenarios sound familiar? Four people are carpooling together to work and each one of them is on the phone at the same time. Ridiculous. Is this necessary or a way to feel important? Could any of the calls have waited for a private moment? Probably. Yet, many of us feel that we must answer the phone, or that any time not multitasking is a waste. But what about “multitasking” by conversing with the people who are actually there? Have you ever seen a woman talk on her phone the entire time she is in the cleaners paying for her freshly pressed clothes and then all the way through the market and beyond the check-out line? We’ve all done it. The person that is miles away is treated with much more deference and importance than the person right in front of us. How about the man who compulsively whips out his BlackBerry every few minutes to check and type email? Or the incessant beeping of Gameboys to which only harried parents seem to be immune? This general “tuning-out” is getting worse. Insensitivity and unawareness are on the rise - even in those of us who are appalled when we see it in others.
(While we are on the subject, could you please point out to your children that when they take their cell phones into the movie theater and flip them open to check if they have text messages every ten minutes during the movie that they are shooting a blinding white light back at the people sitting behind them? Very distracting and, dare I say it, rude. Thank you.)
So. All of this to illustrate we need to implement some new rules of etiquette. Why? To create an identifiable playing field so we know how we should treat others, and how we should expect to be treated. We have telephone etiquette for the basics of what to say and how to take a message, but what about the new cellphone etiquette covering when not to answer the phone and let it take the message? The criteria: How to be Free without allowing our Freedom to to encroach on others. Going further: Using our Freedom to improve our lives and the lives of others. (Give these two guidelines to your teenagers and tell them to test their desires against them. Just be sure you remember, they’ll be testing you against them too!)
Just as with technology, etiquette and good manners must continue to evolve. So, using the above criteria, I offer this compendium of advice. (Below)
These simple courtesies will help keep us all sane in an ever changing world. And who knows, if you model your new cellphone manners to your friends they may even catch on. We all have the power to influence others, and even the smallest things can change the world in positive ways.
How to Avoid Making People Fruity With Your BlackBerry
1. Be aware, when you take or make a call in the company of others you are sending the message that their time is less valuable than yours. Every time. However, the use of courtesy and awareness can avoid this problem.
2. Remember, the people who are actually with you are the most important people to talk with. Try using Caller ID to screen calls. That way you have the option of allowing voice mail to pick up and return the call at a more appropriate time, or to excuse yourself if it truly cannot wait. Be apologetic, so the message is, “I’d really rather not, but I must.”
3. Never take a personal mobile call during a business meeting or in class. This includes interviews and meetings with subordinates, or for students, club meetings after school. Many times, it is correct etiquette to inform others at the beginning of a meeting that you are expecting an important call and get their permission to take it or excuse yourself when the time comes.
4. Try to maintain at least a 10-foot zone from anyone while talking. And don’t yell! Speak in a lower-than-normal voice - you will be heard by the caller, but not by everyone around you.
5. Avoid calls where you may be distracting to others, such as theaters and auditoriums, elevators, restaurants, libraries, museums, doctor waiting rooms, places of worship, or other enclosed public spaces, such as hospital emergency rooms. Use vibrate mode when in places where you can take a call, but don’t want to disturb others with your latest ring tone.
6. Don’t ever have emotional conversations in public. Imagine what it would look like if the other person were actually there in public with you. Would you still have the same conversation in the same tone? Not unless you really crave attention!
7. Don’t think that typing away on your PDA keyboard is any less dismissive or distracting - even if you are hiding it under the edge of the table. Use the same techniques of courtesy as with a cellphone.