It’s a scene so familiar that it’s a cliché – you’re out seeing a brand new movie, arm-deep in a tub of popcorn when someone’s “Stayin’ Alive” ringtone goes off. A million eyes shoot to the direction of the sound while the phone’s owner wrestles with the settings to turn it off, his smile simultaneously reassuring yet apologetic.
There’s almost no way to say it without coming off as some wily old codger, but our gadgets are making us impolite.
Technology has presented some tremendous boons to the world, but at least a little of it comes at the cost of our etiquette.
Some people just aren't feeling the voicemail lately. The New York Times recently proclaimed that voice mail had become 'another impolite way of trying to connect with someone.'
But phones are first and foremost for voice calls. There are still plenty of people who enjoy (and even prefer) using a smartphone for talk instead of text, but we're noticing that this is changing.
Some people regard it as rude to call someone without first having introduced themselves in a less intimate medium.
We noted recently that Mark Zuckerberg suggested that using your phone while you're at dinner with someone else was not, in fact, a negative thing.
Trying to handle two conversations at once is the new normal. Whether it will ever become acceptable or not is still up in the air: This coffee shop in the U.K. refuses to serve customers who are using a phone.
There's no pressure to get anywhere on time if you can just text an excuse when you're running late.
When excuses are easier to make, people are glad to pick up the slack and make lots of excuses.
There's a drastically reduced need to get somewhere at a predetermined time when you can instantly let everyone know you'll be late with a few button presses.
Everyone you communicate with regularly is already entered into your phone book for texting or is saved in your address book for emails. You know who you're talking to before you pick up the phone, open an email, or read a text, so it would be weird (and maybe even unwelcome) for someone to say, 'Hey, it's your friend Bill.'
With Google always within arms' reach, it's no longer socially acceptable to ask for basic information.
Who won the Yankees game last night? Where's the closest gas station?
Questions like these are more or less meaningless now because they're no longer legitimate mysteries. The computer is right there -- why are you asking me?
Asking strangers or coworkers random questions is sometimes considered selfish because it implies that you can't be bothered to plug a few words into a search engine.
There's even a web site, Let Me Google That For You, which allows you to generate a customised sarcastic answer to the person who thinks it's easier for you to Google it than for them.
Everyone has a noisemaker now. With ringing gadgets in everyone's pockets, random interruptions are the new normal.
From movie theatres to long car rides, your phone's ringtone isn't nearly as cool to your neighbours as it is to you.
Your friends are the people who remember your birthday, and send you a card, gift or at least a phonecall on the day.
Not any more, thanks to Facebook. Saying 'Happy Birthday' after Facebook has prompted you is just about the most lazy way to wish someone many happy returns.
Worse still, the people who abbreviate it down to HB.
And then there's those who simply like someone else's happy birthday wish ...
Time was, if you received a gift, it was rude not to write a note, in handwriting, on paper, thanking that person. Adults could maybe get away with making a thank-you phone call.
Email largely killed the handwritten note.
And with Facebook, Twitter, and SMS, you can send ever-shorter messages of thanks that require no effort at all.
The anonymity afforded by the internet can be a real asset -- use it to safely share sensitive information, to protect your identity, and the like.
Or you can use it to stir the pot and antagonize. For an example of this, just look at any YouTube comments section. Or even the comments section of a Business Insider story.
Anonymity has given people the freedom to unleash a level of vitriol they would never dare do in real life.