Changing Social Etiquette in the Digital Age

I have a confession to make. Recently, during a meeting, I texted my wife. It wasn't casual conversation with her; it was to let her know I would be late in coming home. But I still felt guilty about it! It didn't take much of my time to do, but it distracted me from the conversation and it meant I wasn't fully participating or honoring those who were speaking at the time. Was what I did rude? Or was it socially acceptable, kind to my wife in fact, and a good use of my time?

Your answer may depend on what generation you belong to. From what I'm hearing from some younger friends, in the business world it's very acceptable to text during meetings, to respond to emails, even to check the Web. What might be considered distracting and inconsiderate by some, is for others a way of multitasking and engaging in conversations on different subjects with different people simultaneously. The times they are a-changing...

Not too long ago I got an emailed thank-you after we hosted some friends at our house. It's quite common to do this--to either text, email, or Facebook a friend to express one's thanks. Thank-you cards, I suspect, are falling on tough times. It used to be we sent or delivered real gifts in real time; now, virtual flowers, chocolates, and even kisses, are sent via Facebook. And invitations increasingly are coming in Evite format over the Internet. I bet it won't be too long until wedding invitations come this way. Good for the trees, yes. But somehow, it doesn't feel the same...will we lose something as well?

About a week ago, when a contentious subject arose at work, a colleague of mine bravely chose to meet with the person in person and not conduct the conversation via email. What a difference it made! No amount of emoticons can possibly convey what the human face and body language, combined with carefully chosen words, can communicate. Some topics are covered well digitally; others not so much. It takes thoughtfulness to discern which medium to use.

Let's not kid ourselves: the digital revolution and modern communications technology aren't just making our lives easier; in some cases, they may be making them more complicated. Marshall McLuhan's famous quote continues to be apt: "The medium is the message." I welcome your thoughts!

4 comments:

Mitali Perkins said...

I'm looking for a guide to help me be thoughtful and proactive when it comes to spiritual disciplines for a digital age. Got any suggestions?

Carl Hofmann said...

Eesh! You prompted me to pen the latest post!

Anonymous said...

I have also been thinking about 'appropriate' means for communicating various types of information or sentiments, and it is definitely a cultural arena in flux! I got a lovely handwritten thank-you note for a birthday gift in the mail yesterday, and it was such a delight--not least for its increasing rarity these days. We still have our kids write thank-you notes for gifts (although I do resort to electronic means more frequently now for things like a dinner thank-you, as your friends did). I have been thinking about this with the Christmas season coming up, and my beloved tradition of sending cards with a photo and letter. I hope we don't see the day when we only send Facebook greetings and a link to online photos--something of substance gets lost there, much as I love it for everyday communication... Thanks, Carl, for continuing this thought-provoking theme in your blog this fall.

Wendy Redal said...

Oops! Didn't mean for that to show up as "Anonymous." I guess I hit a wrong button. It was me.