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Public displays of technology

The quickest way to get a teacher ranting with rage is to ask them their opinion on mobile phones in the classroom; but it’s not just teachers who have strong opinions on the use of new media – we all do – and most of us are hypocrites.

Methods of communications have always been a bit of a minefield, but modern technology has multiplied the potential for faux-pas for everyone.

Take the humble Email. Whenever we write to someone, it’s important to keep the information clear and concise and to be careful with what and how we write. Tone is hard to distinguish in emails (more so in text messages) and using ‘smileys’ or other cute graphics may help in some (kids’) social communiations, but they are surely a sackable offence in the professional envirionment.

To reply to an email or text may involve more in-depth writing and a longer response than actual talking would require, so if you receive an email that looks tricky to respond to, it’s time to pick up the phone or to arrange a meeting.

Mind you, without visual interaction, miscommunication is, again, possible and tone of voice mistaken. When you make a phone call, make sure there are no distractions at either end; difficulty hearing what is said causes more problems than any other issues. It is always polite to ask before you launch into your discussion; “Is it convenient for you to talk now, or shall I call later?”

All basic, easily solvable stuff, but the real problem lies with the etiquette of technology on the move, as well as in the office; mobile phones, laptops, tablets or similar.

Workplace first:

Randstad’s latest global Workmonitor, surveyed employees in 29 countries and it revealed that technology etiquette is important universally and that employees hate technological interruptions during meetings.

Three quarters of respondents said they were bothered by people answering their phone or emails during business meetings, but only 15% could say that they were not guilty of crimes against technology etiquette themselves.

Stacy Parker, executive VP of marketing, for Ranstad Canada, says correct use of technology depends on the nature of a meeting and the environment; the key is to ensure your actions remain professional.

She says: “Even with easier and quicker access to information that new technologies provide, people still value face-to-face interactions. Smartphones can have a very appropriate place during a meeting or business setting, especially if it serves to facilitate or enhance the speed of business. On the other hand, it can feel like a slight if you are meeting someone and they read a text while talking to you.

In our organisation, our president asks executives to turn off their phones during executive committee meetings, just to make sure everyone remains focused on the matter at hand.”

Companies can set up internal rules and guidelines, but elsewhere we are at the mercy of each individual’s definition of good manners.

In a 2011 survey by Intel, 86% of US adults agreed that social etiquette needs to be updated to include guidelines on ‘mobile etiquette’.

Etiquette expert, Anna Post, of the Emily Post Institute, says: “The Intel survey clearly shows that we love being connected; sharing and getting together online are integral parts of building and maintaining relationships. But we’re still finding our way when it comes to determining the most appropriate behaviour in any given situation online.

Should I post a picture of my friend’s baby before she does? Is it acceptable to have three different online dating profiles? Does your entire social network need to know what you had for dinner last night? The Intel survey helps us to continue building etiquette guidelines for appropriate online behaviour and sharing.”

In a 2012 Intel survey on technology and travel, 64% of respondents considered their mobile computing device a personal style accessory and nearly half said they feel anxious without it. Among travellers’ top peeves was ‘peeping techs’; 49% got annoyed if people glanced at their screen, but 33% said it was a practice they indulged in.

The 2011 survey shows 91% of adults have seen people misuse mobile technology; 75% say mobile manners are worse now than in 2009 – these mostly relate to texting or typing while driving and texting when walking.

30% of travellers felt they did not need to power off their devices when flying; so why do these pieces of kit turn people into selfish hypocrites who think they are above the law?

I believe most people are quite lonely and insecure and mobile devices make them feel important, the centre of the universe, their own CEO, if you like. There must be a solution to these overt public displays of technology.

Anna Post gives the following tips on mobile device etiquette:

• Practise what you preach; If you don’t like others’ bad behaviour, don’t engage in it.

• Be present. Give your full attention to those you are with.

• Before making a call, texting or emailing in public, consider if your actions will impact on others. If they will, reconsider, wait or move away first.

These are all good sensible ideas to maintain manners in the public arena, as would be expected from an etiquette specialist, but below are my rules and some penalties for lack of technology manners in public or work:

• If you are in a conversation with someone in a social environment and they start reading or replying to texts; walk away and don’t come back.

• If this is done in a business meeting: kick them out of the meeting. Three times and they’re sacked (possibly illegal though).

• If someone talks on a mobile phone in a ‘quiet carriage’ on a train, get them thrown off (preferably when the train is moving).

• Anyone who uses a mobile phone when driving must lose their licence.

• For walking and texting, the mobile device should be confiscated for a week or two. Citizens’ arrest if necessary.

• If you speak to someone on a phone and you can hear, or they say, they are on the toilet, just inform them they are dead to you.

People have always acted like idiots, but technology just makes it easier.

Nigel Phillips

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