Manners 2.0: Cultivating Common Courtesy in a Digital World

What is it about the embracing of emerging technologies that has allowed people to abandon common courtesies? Last year, I worked in retail and I was astonished at the sheer number of people who thought it was perfectly fine to conduct a retail transaction while talking on the phone. Before you jump to the conclusion that this is a younger generation phenomenon, I can tell you that I was equally surprised by the diversity in age of the offending customers. Let me tell you a story of one clueless customer. We had one public restroom. You know where I’m going with this right?

A customer approached me to say that someone had been in the bathroom an unusual amount of time and could I check on her. I had actually walked past the bathroom several minutes prior to this and noticed that someone was in there talking on their phone. I remember thinking: who talks on their phone while they’re in a gross public bathroom?

So, of course, she is still in there talking loud enough for the 5 people waiting for the bathroom to hear her, word for word. If she thought talking in the restroom provided some sort of privacy she was wrong. I knocked loudly on the door. There was a moment of silence and then, “Uh oh, I think people want to get in here.” We all stood there and listened to some mysterious noises and finally the door opened. A woman in her 60s emerged and said, “Sorry,” put the phone to her ear and continued her conversation. The customers started clapping and the incident was over.

Clearly, cell phones, social networking and other web 2.0 tools have changed the way we interact with one another; but, can’t we also carry with us some traditional concepts of courtesy? I think so. I’ve created a very basic list of rules to follow when navigating in the digital world.

Rules of Respect 2.0

1. Set your phone to vibrate when in a public place where there is an expectation of quiet: hospitals, libraries, coffee shops where people are working on laptops are just a few examples. You might also lower the ringer when in any indoor public place. There is a general annoyance when you hear someone’s obnoxiously loud ringtone no matter where you are.

2. Turn your phone off when you are on a date, eating dinner with your family, hanging out with friends, basically when you are engaged with other humans in a business or social arena. If you are waiting for an important call/txt or email or need to be on call, let your companions know that you may need to excuse yourself.

3. If you receive a formal invitation to something like a wedding, rsvp via snail mail. Don’t send a text, email or IM, unless the hosts have indicated that sort of response is acceptable.

4. If you need to speak or listen to another person, remove your headphones/earbuds. Keep the volume of your portable devices low enough that others around you can’t hear them.

5. Txting and surfing during class is rude and although you may be confidant in your multitasking abilities, you are probably not digesting all that the professor says.

This is just a beginning list. I’ll probably add more as this blog goes on.

My friend told me  a digital date from hell story.  She recently went on a first date with a woman and her date checked her Blackberry several times throughout their meal and actually responded to a txt message as they were walking down the sidewalk.  The thing that most struck me about this was that this person is not being fully present in her life. And I surely don’t want to date someone who isn’t even fully present on the first date. You can use this same scale when dealing with the store clerk, the gas station attendant and others you come in contact with. Turn off your devices, acknowledge this other human that is in your life. You can check your texts, talk to your friend, surf the internet in just a moment.

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