Sunday, February 8, 2015

#28 Days of Writing 8: Conversation etiquette in the 21C

We ate out for breakfast this morning and I was trying to give Taine (11) a quick lesson in phone etiquette. Since Christmas, he's the proud owner of his very first mobile phone - a $29 Telstra Turbo. The phone is a trial for him to see if he can manage the responsibility of mobile technology with the suggestion that if he can go a whole year without

  • losing it
  • keeping to his credit limit
  • following 'the rules' (which I'll save for a later post!)
then he might be lucky enough to take over my iPhone when its contract runs out at the end of the year.

As we sat down, he whipped out his phone and started playing games. He was still playing when the waitress came to take our order. We explained to him that it was rude to be looking at his phone while someone was talking to him and, in a pious attempt to be good role models, piled our phones in the middle of the table with the threat that whoever picked theirs up first would pay (a hollow threat since only Geoff was holding a credit card). Anyway, looking at someone when they are taking your breakfast order just makes good manners-sense. But from this directive arose a question that is far more complicated in this new age of 24 hr connection to the entire world.

If we accept that it's rude to look at/text on or answer your phone when you're talking to someone face to face, what is the rule when you are already in a digital conversation and someone wants to talk to you face to face? For instance, if I'm having a text conversation with my friend, is it ok for my husband to expect that I stop doing that to speak in person with him, or should he wait until I've finished the text or is it perfectly acceptable for me to do both at the same time? Because we can, we are now adept at having more than one conversation at the same time. If I'm in the middle of an important email, is it ok for someone to interrupt that communication with a verbal conversation? Is it fair that face to face space takes precedence over digital space? How about when I'm Skyping? Is that face to face or digital? Is it ok for me to text on another device at the same time or answer the door or speak to someone else in the room about a different topic?

If I'm talking to Pascale in Switzerland, is it ok to talk to Taine in the kitchen at the same time?
As you would expect on a Sunday morning, there was a pile of Sunday papers on the restaurant counter available for diners to peruse. If I pick up the paper and start flicking through it while we're having our coffee chat, that's normal, right? In fact it might even add to our conversation as I share bits and pieces of the day's news. So, how is it different if I'm checking the news feed on my phone? What if I do the crossword in the paper? How is that different to Taine playing Sudoku on his phone?

In our house it's not uncommon for us to have a whole family conversation via text or Messenger, even when some of us are in the same room. When I mention this to people of my own age group it's often met with raised eyebrows. 'Why don't you just talk to them or pick up the phone?' Well, because a group text conversation is better, that's why. It's inclusive of everyone in our family whether they are in our house or in Warrnambool or Geelong or New Zealand. 

New conversational spaces need new rules. Over ridingly I think the important thing is to 'be present' in the conversation, whether you're having those conversations one at a time or in tandem, real time or virtual.

What do you think?

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