Thursday, August 30, 2012

Silent e-Communication: The Epidemic and How to Prevent Disaster

Basic Rules for Polite and Respectful Communication:

1. Actively listen and pay attention to people when they are talking to you.

2. Don't interrupt when someone else is talking to you.

3. If you must, excuse yourself from conversation, deal with your business as quickly as possible, then return to your original conversation.

Then electronic communication came along and challenged all the rules.

It used to be that the most obnoxious behaviour attributed to cell phone users was their loud conversations with people in public places. Now it appears that Silent Electronic Communication (what I have shortened to Silent e-Communication) has taken over. Silent e-Communication can be defined as any kind of communication that can be done electronically, without talking. These include: Texting, Messaging, Emailing, Facebook or other Social Network Notifications, Tweets, Updates, Alerts, or any other kind of message that comes to someone over their hand-held device. Most cell phones nowadays have texting capabilities, and a lot more people are moving over to smartphones. Smartphones are cell phones that have internet capabilities, emails, browsing, cameras, video cameras, applications, etc.

Talking obnoxiously loud in public while using a cell phone is pretty much old school now. We rarely hear someone using a cell phone to talk to people in public. The little "blue tooth" headset is becoming less and less popular. What is taking over is texting, messaging, and emailing from our phones.  This is what I call "Silent e-Communication". What I believe has happened is a surge of Silent e-Communication without any rules. When there are no rules, and people lose their common sense politeness (remember the Golden Rule? Treat others as you would like to be treated), tempers flare, feelings are hurt and sometimes privileges are taken away.

I first experienced this "rudeness" when my son got his first Nintendo Game Boy over a decade ago. He would be playing on his little electronic game, and he would have trouble stopping what he was doing to look up at me and listen to what I was saying. It was hard to get his attention. Children of this generation have been raised in an electronic era, and use of computers and small electronics has now moved into a way for kids to communicate, play and stay connected. Sometimes I wonder if they are losing their skills in how to communicate face-to-face. Playing "online" has become commonplace and sometimes preferred (especially for boys). Increasing rudeness can also be seen in comments and replies to posts on the internet. There are often no rules out there in the real world, and rudeness and lack of respect can be seen again and again in the big cyber world called the World Wide Web, or the Internet. Are we raising a generation of rude people? Are we totally missing the boat here? Are politeness and etiquette becoming a thing of the past? I sure hope not!

Silent e-Communication can be transmitted to and from all kinds of devices, such as iPods, iPhones, Blackberries, Androids, iPads, tablets, etc. It appears that we have traded the embarrassment of overhearing someone talking out loud about a private issue on their cell phone in public for pervasive, persistent and somewhat addictive Silent e-Communication. Fingers are doing the talking now. Thumbs and eyes teamed up with the skillful positioning of handheld devices has become more commonplace and has reached an epidemic. Private communication is so much easier now. People are doing it when they are driving (there are laws in some jurisdictions against this dangerous behaviour), walking (I admit I do that sometimes), even sitting on the toilet (I plead the fifth here!). I even read that there was a guy that was in a men's washroom, using the urinal, while texting with the other hand!

Being "connected" is a very positive feeling, especially when you feel rewarded every time you get a positive response from someone (i.e. ☺, ♥, xoxo) or a "Like" on one of your posts or statuses. Our egos are constantly being fed and we get addicted to the feeling. We feel liked and important.

Very young children are carrying around these devices now, and they often don't have any rules. It's a kind of "learn as we go" mentality. Silent e-Communicators are sometimes oblivious to their rudeness and it's time to lay down the etiquette rules so that no one gets hurt (emotionally and sometimes physically).

It's important to teach young kids the rules of hand-held devices from the start. Sometimes the adults in their lives don't even know what the rules are or should be, but it becomes a bone of contention for the parents who seemingly feel ignored or interrupted while their kids "play on their phones". It can go both ways, while parents, seemingly obsessed with their hand-held devices, are oblivious to what's going on around them. I've seen my own daughter spending "real" time with her friends, and they are all using their cell phones at the same time. They are texting, checking for messages, sending photos, updating statuses, and who knows what else. They could also be silently communicating with one another in the same room. What's acceptable in their peer group, is not necessarily acceptable in other social situations. What's acceptable in one's family, may not be acceptable in the workplace – and vice versa.

Here are what I consider common sense rules of electronic communication device etiquette based on my research and personal experience:

1. Say No to Distracted Driving. Do not use a hand-held device while driving (or riding a bike or any other mobility device). People can be injured or killed.

2. Say No to Distracted Dining. When you are having a meal with someone, put your device away. Unless you are expecting an important call, it can wait. Give them and your food your undivided attention.

3. Avoid Rude Interruptions. Put your phone away when you are visiting or engaged with someone or a group of friends or family. Focus on the people you are with, in-person. On the other hand, if you approach someone and they are on their phone, texting or emailing, imagine it is you that is interrupting them. If you need their attention and it can't wait, let them know you want to talk to them, then wait until there is a break in what they were doing.

4. Avoid Embarrassment. Follow the rules when in large gatherings or in meetings. Movie theatres, meetings, church, etc. are no places to be using your handheld device.  If you must, remove yourself from the room to do your business. Usually those who are officiating the event will remind people to turn off their cell phones or pagers. Most people know how to turn the phone to "Silent".  This rule is particularly even more important at funerals and weddings.

5. Use the Right Kind of Communication. There are three main types of communication when it comes to electronic handheld devices. Here they are in order of importance, with the first being most important: Phone call, text, email. If you have an important, time-sensitive matter to discuss with someone, a phone call is best. Don't get mad if someone doesn't reply to your text or email in a timely fashion. Just because you are a "Text Maniac" doesn’t mean they are.

6. If it's Annoying or Rude to You, Don't Do It. If you find some type of behaviour annoying, it would be a good idea not to do it yourself. For example, if you overhear someone's loud, obnoxious ring (they've selected a ring tone that is really "out there"), it would be a good idea to consider what your ring tone sounds like, and at what volume it's at. Another example, if someone's phone makes a sound when they receive a notification, email, or text, that can also be really annoying. Use your "Volume" and "Silent" options, or put it on "Vibrate" so as not to annoy others.

Hopefully these tips will help prevent hurt feelings and foster a more civilized society. A little etiquette goes a long way.

Excuse me now, as I have to check my phone.


Angela G. Gentile

More references on cell phone etiquette:

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