Conversation, Connection, Communication, Rudeness, Isolation, Etiquette and Technology

This is probably more than one post, but all of the thoughts came at the same time and they kind of fit together so here they are as a single stream:

I have a rule, if I’m in a conversation with someone and they start to look at their mobile device or laptop I stop talking. I used to just sit there until the person came back, but after a couple of occasions where I’ve sat for a few minutes waiting for the person to come back I’ve modified my behaviour and I now leave. I give them a little while to come back, but if they have clearly left the conversation I will leave too.

Castle Stalker BayPreviously I’ve written about being In the same room, but not together when observing the interactions in my own family. At this year’s TED Sherry Turkle gave a talk on Connected, but alone? She has some very interesting, and worrying, things to say about our relationship with our devices:

Our little devices are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are.

She makes a much better job than I did of explaining the worry that I was expressing in my post Post 1000: Thinking about thinking, the brain and information addiction.

She goes on to say when talking about the way that we flit between being present and being somewhere else:

Across the generations I see that people can’t get enough of each other if, and only if, they can have each other at a distance in amounts they can control. I call it the goldilocks effect – not too close, not too far, just right.

In other words – we are desperate to connect but we want to do it on our own terms and in a way that provides immediate gratification.

Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?

If you watch the recent Project Glass video posted by Google you’ll notice many of these same characteristics in the interactions that they envisage. Notice how long it is before the person wearing the glasses interacts with a real person and how many opportunities he had to interact that were replaced by technology.

Project Glass: One day…

In a report from August 2011 Ofcom highlighted our changing attitude towards technology and, in particular smartphones:

    • The majority of smartphone users (81%) have their mobile switched on all of the time, even when they are in bed.
    • Teens, in particular, are likely to have high levels of addiction to their smartphones, with 60% rating their level of ‘addiction’ to their phone at seven or higher. Teen girls are more addicted to their phones than boys.
    • There are indications that smartphones are encroaching upon ‘traditional’ social interaction, with 51% saying that they ever use their phone while socialising with others and 23% using their smartphone during a meal with others. Twenty-two per cent of smartphone users even claim to use it in the bathroom/toilet.

I wasn’t sure about the statistic on usage in the toilet until the other day when I went into a toilet and noticed the gentleman (teenager) at the latrine next to me had one hand dealing with normal latrine activity while texting/tweeting with the other.

In a recent InformationWeek article Cindy Waxer describes 6 Ways To Beat IT Career Burnout and what’s #6:

6. Take a week off. Seriously.

"By off, I mean off," says Russell. No smartphone, no email, no telephone calls.

It’s been interesting over the last couple of week talking to colleagues returning from an Easter holiday break. Some of them have said something along the lines of "it was great i completely got away from it all" while others have said "I stayed on top of my email while I was away so the return was much easier". To the second set of individuals I’d like to ask the question – "what was the person you went on holiday with doing while you were staying on top?"

Most of my posts have a conclusion on them, but I’m struggling to work out what it should be on this post. We need to start to understand where we are letting the technology take us to, but what does that mean? We need to work out what our relationships are going to look like in the future, but how do we do that? We need to understand what the new etiquette is going to be, but how? I think, though, I’ll finish off with Sherry’s words "it’s time to talk".

"Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation." Mark Twain

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