Electronic Etiquette in the Digital Age

By Dr David Greenfield

A New Normal

Americans have not as of yet decided how to deal with the incursion of portable digital technologies into our everyday public life. We are only now just beginning to address the intrusion these devices can and do create in our public places and spaces, and we are only now starting to develop new social norms on how and when we use them.

Being Present and Simultaneously Absent in the Digital Age

The problem with all these portable technologies (mainly Smartphones) is that the freedom they afford us in unfettered access creates a public statement that: “Where I am and what I am doing now is not where I actually am or want to be”. In short, all these technologies in effect shift time and space. A rather disconcerting feeling is communicated indirectly when we are in a public space yet seem to be connected elsewhere. I believe this unconsciously violates our psychobiological safety and survival mechanisms and produces a feeling of ill-at-ease in those around us.

If we are psychologically absent when in public, then those around us don’t quite know what to expect. Many of the normal (and predictable) social cues are shifted in the electronic netherworld. Because digital technologies have a way of shifting time and space, in so doing they covey a rather mixed message to the real-time social world…..that is “I am here, but not really”. We are left in a world of electronic phantoms—partly- in and partly-out of the real-time social fabric of daily living.

What the Future Holds

My prediction is that many pubic places will begin to develop digital use policies–just as some restaurants are offering meal discounts if you agree to leave your phone in the car! In fact, that might not be a bad idea…to be in the social world without the intrusive digital distraction of our devices. Call it an experiment in conscious, real-time living.

Constant accessibility and time-shifting from digital technology contributes to our not living in the here and now, thus furthering a high-tech, high-stress lifestyle. Our hyper-vigilant, always-on state of arousal elevates our stress hormones (cortisol) thus further leading to our feeling depleted. One way to manage this tech-stress syndrome is to take control of the unpredictable and variable (hence addictive, slot machine-like) intrusion of beeps and buzzes from incoming messages and updates and turning our phones completely off thus taking some time to manage our technology instead of it managing us.

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