Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Technology and etiquettes

Every generation is faced with its challenges. For pre-historic people it was surviving. A little later, while not getting eaten was perhaps still high on the agenda, with the invention of tools, fire, and farming, it was perhaps having enough food for the coming winter. Fortunately, for us, these questions have mostly been answered and in some cases laid to rest with the matter that now gives us the fossil fuels. That is not to say that the spring of challenges has dried up. With our own evolution, the challenges facing us have evolved too; sometimes giving us opportunity to better ourselves and at times giving us repose to reflect on our progress.

In this brave new century (21st, if somehow this is still being read long after this century) we have achieved a lot. Survival in most of the world is almost guaranteed, unless one is unfortunate to be in the midst of genocide (e.g. Hutu-Tutse), large scale famine and drought (parts of Africa and sometimes Orissa, India), geo-political instability (Israel – Palestine), religio-fascist militancy (Bombay, Bangalore, Kashmir, New Delhi, London, New York and other places of interest) or generally in the Southern United States denouncing country-music, NASCAR and religion . But, I digress.

With each technological advance, our society developed rules of etiquette and politeness. With the invention of language, greetings were offered to acquaintances and sometimes strangers; when doors were invented, gentle, civilized people held them open for their fellows; seats on buses and trains were offered to the elderly, women and children. Sometimes etiquettes are so important they are codified into laws: when changing lanes or turning, it is not only polite, but required to indicate; smoking is on the decline in closed public spaces and even prohibited at some.

With each new development, it takes people time to think of being courteous with a technology but sooner or later everyone gets the hang of it. Well, okay maybe some drivers in Nashville (and Bombay and New York and every other place where people live and drive) still have to grasp the idea of turn indicators, but hey, you catch my drift. Most people get along and get out the other persons way as soon as they can.

The rapid evolution of technology, however, is imposing a very volatile flux of situations and society perhaps is having difficulty accommodating one’s own convenience with respect and consideration for others.

Amongst this century’s (well technically the turn of the century’s) greatest advances are the proliferation of the Internet and other communication media. Voices, images and ideas are communicated across the globe the very moment one creates them (or at least as fast as our current understanding of the universe allows). Never before has so much power been in the hands of so many.

While cell-phones represent the pinnacle of accomplishments in technology, convergence and convenience, cell-phone users personify the worst etiquette offenders. The more important a meeting or presentation, the greater the chance of a polyphonic ring-tone echoing through the darkened room; more solemn the occasion, more inappropriate the pop-tone; the quieter the library, the longer the conversation and the louder the voice.

What is it about having the power to converse at a moment’s notice that keeps us from being masters of conversation and instead turns us in to slaves of the people calling? Why is it that people find it utterly important to fiddle with the phone while hurtling down the freeway at 70 mph? Why is it that people insist on discussing intimate, personal details about their health or the status of their passports in the middle of the library at sound levels that put jet engines to shame and for durations that make fossils seem fresh?

Why is it that a vibrating BlackBerry takes greater importance than the presentation that’s outlining the technology that protects the country you love and live in? What metric is it that demotes the significance of a lecture that someone (or more likely their parents) paid $1500/ hour to below the urgency of an inconsequential forwarded text-message from a non-descript “friend” who’s forgotten a month after graduation? What makes the struggle of an ICU patient assisted by a defibrillator nugatory compared to the need to order pizza for waiting relatives, especially in the face of signs that specifically request abstinence from cell-phone usage in the ICU?

While I am a fervent believer in social freedoms, I am an equally ardent subscriber of living harmoniously in society. When will we realize cell-phone etiquettes and how? Are New York, Washington D.C., and Bombay on the right track by legislating bans against hand-held phone conversations while driving? Are cell-phone jammers employed by opera houses and theaters the last resort? Are they our only hope? Are… hold on, my phone’s ringing, and I’ve really got to take this one.


Sindhu said...

Hey nice blog....and when evr I read ur blog, I have to refer dictionary.com :)

kage said...

hey thanks Sindhu!

kage said...

Update: state of Washington is now considering legislation against texting while driving. read it here

Vrinda said...

good one

Vrinda said...

Hey, this is a good one...

kage said...

@Vrinda, thanks!

kage said...

here's another link talking about emerging technologies and it's evolving etiquettes: the author talks about email and common faux pas like read recipt and marking priorities

kage said...

another problem hitherto unknown: GPS navigation device suggested shortcuts causing problems with local towns. Read the NYTimes article

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Manners for Facebook!

kage said...

Reuters finds Cellphone etiquette getting worse
Mobile etiquette seen getting worse, not better

Ninety one percent of U.S. adults questioned in a new poll by computer innovation company Intel said they have seen people misuse technology, and three quarters think mobile manners have decreased in the past year.

"New digital technologies are becoming a mainstay in consumers' lives, but we haven't worked out for ourselves, our families, communities and societies what all the right kinds of behaviors and expectations will be," said Genevieve Bell, the head of interaction and experience research at Intel.

The poll of 2,000 adults revealed that most U.S. adults wished people practiced better mobile etiquette and found the lack of cellphone manners extremely annoying, even though about 20 percent admitted to poor etiquette themselves.

Nearly 75 percent said the lack of mobile manners has created a new form of public rage and 65 percent admitted they became angry around people who misused mobile devices.

The most annoying behaviors were the use of mobile devices during driving, followed by talking on a cellphone loudly in a public place and walking in the street while texting or talking on the phone.

People reported seeing, on average five mobile offenses every day, according to the poll. Nearly a quarter said they had even seen someone using a laptop while driving, and one in five said they checked their mobile devices before getting out of bed in the morning.