Mind Your Digital Manners

We are all so connected these days.  Cell phones and PDA’s (often one and the same), MP3 players and laptops, iPads and iTouches.  They are in our pockets, purses, sitting on the seat next to us in the car.  My teenager goes nowhere without her phone, and I go nowhere without my iPod, and rarely without my laptop as well.  In meetings I may be checking my mail on my cell phone, and I can’t count how many times I’ve dug a ringing cell phone out of my purse at a business lunch or personal event.

With all of this technology, there becomes a perception of urgency; that ringing cell phone has to be answered RIGHT NOW, and I have to know what’s going on with that project/event/the boss so I’d better be checking my email regularly.

But when does it cross the line from being useful and helpful to being rude and inconsiderate?  Is answering an email from the boss or a friend at dinner with my family really necessary?  Taking it even further, is answering that email more important than concentrating on the company I’m with, that I presumably chose to spend time with in the first place?  Is anything that important?

I know it bothers me greatly when my son comes to the house (he’s 20 and living on his own) to help with a project I need help with, but ends up spending more than half of his time looking at his Android and either answering text messages or taking/making phone calls.  We’d probably finish what we needed to do in half the time if he would just put that thing away and concentrate on the job at hand.  And I know I’m somewhat guilty of doing the same; not so much when I’m working on a project (I can easily ignore the phone during those times, or put it in another room) but when I’m sitting at a restaurant with my family or friends, or in a meeting that is unrelated to work, or a social gathering.  Why is it I am not entertained enough by the activity at the dinner, meeting, or activity, and feel like I have to be “distracted” by my devices?  Is it a need to look important, to feel important?  Or is it because the call of the device is too strong to overcome?

Either way, if I’m old enough to use the technology, then I’m likely old enough to have some manners about it.  If it annoys me when my kids do it, then it likely annoys my companions when I do it.  Nothing is so important that it can’t wait an hour, in most cases.  My job will still be there when I get back to it, and that email will wait.