Q: I am working on a project to define proper etiquette for urban use of technology as to not disturb others around you, yet maintain proper social behavior. What are your suggestions towards proper etiquette when using smart phones, PDAs, cell phones, MP3 players, game systems and others in the public and very urban environment?
A: The technologies you describe can be demons in two ways: either they disturb the public “peace” or they interrupt social interactions.
In an urban or social environment, it is important for people to be respectful of each other’s space and privacy. For example, no one would think of picking up a telephone in the middle of a crowded space and having a very loud conversation about one’s private life. The phone booth was brilliant – it made the technology and convenience of the telephone available publicly, but provided the caller with a private, enclosed space in which to use it.
Well, cell phones don’t have a phone booth equivalent. However, they do have many features that help make the cell phone less of an imposition on others. Using the vibrate mode and voicemail are one way to “tame” the technology when in a public space. Check messages and make calls privately. Make sure that you use a normal voice tone – people tend to speak louder when using cell phones.
The MP3 player may not disturb the public peace – unless the listener is singing along at the top of his voice – but it does pose a safety hazard. If the volume is turned up, the listener can’t hear other environmental sounds – such as warning sounds – horn beeps, a warning shout, sirens.
PDA’s, pagers and smart phones are more of a distraction and an interruption. Some people are constantly checking for messages, sending messages. That’s fine when you are on your own, but it is not considerate to be sending and receiving messages when in a meeting or when having a conversation with someone, just as you shouldn’t answer your cell phone if you are in the middle of a conversation.
Our philosophy is that etiquette is based on kindness, consideration, honesty and respect. When we apply these principles to our actions, we will generally choose to do the considerate thing. Right now our society is somewhat in thrall to these electronic devices. We need to learn to be masters of the technology – using it appropriately and considerately.