Is Constant Connectivity Making us Rude?

September 25, 2012

Over a year ago now, Enda Kenny attacked the Vatican in an unprecedented manner. Yesterday he disrespected the Pope again, but this time in a manner all too familiar – by means of mobile phone. No, he didn’t berate him by telephone call, nor did he send him a nasty text. He simply ignored him, in favour of his iPhone. Maybe he was being intentionally disrespectful, but in all likelihood, he didn’t think twice about it. For many, this is now a natural way of behaving.

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Technology is changing how we interact, all the time. Of course, we interact through technology, but technology also affects how we interact in person. In the past, when you were at a presentation, your attention was on the presenter. Now, it’s usually on their slides.  When you were at a dinner, or a lunch, the only thing that might interrupt proceedings was a waiter or a trip to the bathroom. Any meeting can now be interrupted by a call, email, text, tweet, Whatsapp, Heytell, Facebook message…..the means are endless.

The readiness with which people will embrace outside communication in a meeting is a function of many things; how important the meeting is, how much of their attention is required, what urgent issues they are simultaneously dealing with, and ultimately, how much respect they have for the person or people they are meeting (and how easily they’ll be forgiven).

Some of this is forgivable and some is not. Trying to look busy and important, for example, is not forgivable. Happening to have an emergency on the boil while you’re at another meeting, is understandable. A quick; ‘I’m very sorry, but I’m going to have to keep an eye on my email and might have to take a call during this, please excuse me if I do’, doesn’t take much. 

Maybe I’m being overreacting. Recently at a planning day, one member of our group spent much of his time on his iPad, presumably reading and writing emails. He wasn’t crucial to proceedings, so apart from being vaguely miffed, I thought little of it. It transpired a few days later that he was in fact, taking detailed notes. My bad. I should actually have been flattered. 

So maybe Enda Kenny was taking detailed notes, or maybe he was using Voice Record to capture ever word. But, people should take more care in considering the impression they give in these situations. When they’ve accepted a meeting invitation, it shouldn’t be too much to expect their undivided attention. 

-Claire

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