Tech & Manners

I was born in Canada, as were my parents. My deepest apologies. Anyways, that meant that I was raised to be super polite. I remember very specifically going to Toys R Us one day, and walking inside the store while my mother waited at the door. I got about 15 feet past the entrance before I noticed my mom was nowhere to be found, so I walked back to her. “Kevin, you open the door for a lady,” my mother said. I argued – something totally convincing from a 7 year old, I’m sure – and she said, “Well I’m not going in until you open the door for me, and that means you’re not getting anything.” She had a point there, so I opened the door for her. To this day, I open the door for my wife, I walk on the outside of the street from her, and I chew with my mouth closed. Just kinda stuck.

So I was at lunch the other day with my old boss, and we both sat down at the table with our phones on the tables. I turned mine on vibrate so that it wouldn’t interrupt the conversation, and then he did the same. Not 5 minutes later, his phone starts blinking. Mid sentence, he stops, looks through the phone for a second, then starts right back up like nothing ever happened. He did this easily 10 times during our hour-long lunch, which pissed me off pretty good. His focus was obviously split between me and that mystery person on the other end. How could someone be so rude while we’re trying to have a conversation?

Well, I’ve been guilty of it before, and it gets me thinking back to that time in front of Toys R Us. Fact is, we’re now in an “always connected” society. Between mobile e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, texting and cell phones in general, it’s almost difficult to get away from communication. You almost have to make a conscious effort to put away your devices to stay out of the loop, and that in itself can be difficult. Ever left the house without your cell phone? I don’t know about you, but I always feel like I’m lost without it.

It can get dangerous, too. There’s been a lot of talk about texting while driving – which in some states is becoming illegal – but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. I’ve been guilty of checking my Facebook status at a street light or pulling up my e-mail while going down the road. The problem is that it’s addicting – you feel like you’re missing something if you don’t get that text right now or check an e-mail right away. Further compounding that are the people on the other end who expect responses right away. I once lost a job opportunity because I didn’t respond to a Twitter mention within 24 hours.

So what’s the fix? How do we stay in constant contact yet still be polite to the real people in front of you? I’m not really sure, honestly. In my personal life, I try as best as possible to focus on the person I’m with in that moment, but I’ve been known to tear away if I’m expecting an important e-mail or call. I think that eventually this will be figured out by someone like Martha Stewart or another etiquette expert, but until that happens, the only thing I can suggest is this: Keep the phone in your pocket while driving or with a friend, and try to value those in-face interactions. E-mails can be deleted, but those face-to face interactions turn into memories which can last forever.

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