Technology no substitute for etiquette |

Technology no substitute for etiquette

Susan Paslov

Let’s begin this piece with some questions: Is anyone else out there occasionally bothered by cell phone use? Do you love the thought of being captive to the private conversations of others?

Do you feel, as I do, that cell phone conversations can be unwelcome intrusions into daily life; that they somehow stifle the present moment, belittling those who must wait for the conversation to be over, being ignored in the meantime?

Technological advances are coming on us rapidly. Unlike the advent of radio and television – which we had many years to adjust to – computers, pagers, videophones and cell phones have come on us in a rush.

Cell phones (nearly a worldwide phenomenon) are wonderful, in their place. They allow us to make phone calls, search the Internet, and enjoy e-mail communications. Our pagers handily keep us on an “electronic leash,” so that we’re always in touch with happenings at office and home.

On the phone, TV or Internet, we can go shopping for nearly anything we need. We can do our banking and bill paying there, too. Mechanical trouble in cars of newer vintage can be checked out by computer so we needn’t tell the mechanic what we suspect is wrong. In fact, it’s possible to spend an entire day in electronic transactions, interacting with no one in a personal way.

How amazed our grandparents would be! So much newfangled stuff! It seems that we are so far ahead of them, so much better off! But, are we? In the tangle of communication devices we use, do we really communicate well, so that we understand each other? If we are always “electronically leashed,” do we ever have a chance to hear our own thoughts? Can we be quiet long enough to listen to our own voice and know who we really are?

Not interacting in person with the banker, retail clerk and grocer (who helps us thump the watermelons), it seems that we lose a sense of community. Isn’t it enjoyable for men to join the garage mechanic in puzzling over “that funny noise coming from under the hood?”

Where has our “neighborhood” gone? As we stay glued to the computer or TV, we forget to rock slowly on our front porch, nodding to those who walk by. On balance, perhaps we’ve lost more than we’ve gained.

Though not lost, there’s something we need to gain. This is the right etiquette to go along with our new technology. “Etiquette,” according to Webster’s, is “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.” In our haste to adopt new technologies, we’ve not had time to develop the proper conduct to accompany them.

Being excited about e-mail, we forward things to our friends that they perhaps don’t have the time or desire to receive. To them, it may be electronic “junk mail.” Or we eagerly chat on our cell phone, oblivious to those around us who might not enjoy being part of the conversation! We intrude on others’ airspace, or cause dinner companions to wonder why we ignore them, in deference to a mechanical device simply because it rang! We drive while chatting on our phone, careless of the heightened risk we cause ourselves and others.

Yes, we are masters of technology; but now it is time to develop the etiquette to match.

If we’re not well-bred and thoughtful enough to turn off our cell phones while we’re driving, in a restaurant or at the movies, some authority will step in and do it for us. For we must be more discreet in our use of technology around others. After all, our clever devices are meant to serve the human environment, not the reverse.

It is time.

Susan Paslov is a retired attorney who teaches English as a second language. She is married, with three children and three grandchildren.