A hundred years ago, if two people were in the same room they would be . . .  in the same room. That seems straightforward.

Fast-forward to 2013. Now if you put two people in the same room, at least one of them will be texting someone who is not in the room.  The mind of the person doing the texting will be, for all practical purposes, somewhere else. That person has smeared space. His mind and body are in two completely different places.

I wonder about the implications of this spatial smearing. I think it will make our brains evolve differently. A caveman's brain only had to keep track of his actual physical location and perhaps the watering hole. Modern humans keep in their minds a virtual map of the world that includes all the places they have travelled, the location of their friends, and all the places they might later go. We also browse the Internet and take our minds all over the world in the form of news. Presumably this has an impact on our brain development. The part of human brains that controls spatial stuff will become the size of a pumpkin.

In 2013 most adults consider it rude when someone whips out a phone and starts texting at the dinner table, or interrupts a conversation to handle an incoming text message. But the standards of etiquette are rapidly evolving. If you put four teens at a dinner table, all four will be texting and none of them will think it rude. I doubt they will drop the habit as adults.

I've been thinking about this topic because I get a strange feeling when someone starts texting in my presence. I feel as if that person is no longer in the room. And this raises an interesting question of etiquette on my part: Can I treat a person who is texting in my presence the same as someone who is not in the room? For example, can I leave the room without a goodbye or an explanation? Can I make a phone call that will last half an hour, thus making the texting person wait when he is done texting?

Can I text someone who is standing right in front of me and texting someone else? It seems the best way to get from wherever I am to wherever the other person's brain went.  That's a serious question, by the way, because I generally want to communicate with the people who are in the room with me. When the phone gets top priority for communication, sometimes texting the person standing right in front of you is the only way. (And yes, I've done this.)

I also wonder if it is polite to interrupt someone who is sending a text. Do I get a higher priority simply by being in the same room? Or must I wait in silence and stare at the wall until the other is done texting?

Google Glasses will take this spatial smearing to a new level. At least with smartphones you can tell when someone's mind is elsewhere. But how happy will you be when you are having a conversation in person and your friend keeps glancing up to watch his little projection screen inside his glasses? I think Google Glasses might be the last straw for in-person communication. My plan when Google Glasses replace smartphones is to just say fuck it and never again attempt to make conversation in person.  It will be too frustrating.

I'm not suggesting life in the future will be worse. I generally welcome new technology. And communicating with several people at once without the limits of space or time is awesome. But I think in-person communication will come to be seen as annoying and inefficient. I will go so far as to predict that in-person communication will someday be seen as a rude interruption to whatever is happening inside your Google Glasses.

That's a serious prediction.

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Feb 8, 2013
Personally, I like it when people whip out their phone and start texting. I suspected they were not in the present moment, paying attention. Now I have a clear signal.

Our future is so much better than people thought it would be. Check out this 1 minute video of Walter Cronkite speculating on the home office of the future.


Thanks to the smartphone, we have all those capabilities in our pants. In my opinion, a little spatial smearing is a small price to pay.
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Feb 8, 2013
Seriously, who answers their phone these days? I keep mine on silent and respond when I want or am able. When talking to a live person, the phone goes into my pocket or I turn it over to avoid the distraction. And yes, I expect the person I am speaking with to apply the same common courtesy or I'll terminate the conversation until they are ready. Simple.
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Feb 8, 2013
My daughter just turned 8. Before she can have a cellphone she will have to have to practice showing good manners in this respect. I have seen young people texting under the table while dining with grandparents. Obviously they have not learned basic manners. If an important text seems urgent at least one should ask to be excused before answering it.
Feb 7, 2013

[One common rule of etiquette is to not ask what the rules are. You are presumed to know the rules...That's right, you are being rude right now!]

That would be reasonable except for one thing: the situations Scott is referring to are relatively recent. The rules are etiquette haven't kept pace, or if they have old fogies like Scott, me and some of the other commenters on this blog haven't noticed. We need to get this cleared up and then to be educated on the new normal. So lighten up.
Feb 7, 2013
I thought you were going to ask if it would be ok to fart, as if the person weren't there.
Feb 7, 2013
Rules of etiquette (rudeness being not folllowing the rules) is one method of people having an understanding of what should occur during interactions. I.E. what is appropriate behaviour.

One common rule of etiquette is to not ask what the rules are. You are presumed to know the rules.

Scott, you are asking for clarification with regards to the rules. I.E. what is appropriate in the above specific situations. That's right, you are being rude right now!

But I say just toss out the rule about not asking what the rules. That way you are only breaking one etiquette rule instead of guessing at the rules and breaking a whole bunch. Next time you are in one of those situations above just ask the other person. E.G.: Hey, I see you are getting out your phone to text, is it okay if I....

Yes, it's inefficient, but if your circle of friends isn't too large you can define/set the standard for future interactions fairly easily. The other people you don't know as well will just have to assume you are rude for asking them the rules instead of just reading their mind. Lazy non-mind reader.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 7, 2013
I think the early patterns of etiquette in this area were shaped by our universal desire to be doctors -- as in, "I have to take this text/call/page because I'm going to save someone's life so why don't you just stand there, your conversation just isn't as important."

Of course, we're not doctors, and society will evolve new standards. For plain old phone calls, the new etiquette acknowledges the synchronous, and therefore mutual and potentially disturbing, nature of the experience; so we use asynchronous means (texts and email) to schedule calls. In Skype, most of my calls begin with a short message -- "can we talk now?" That allows my correspondent to opt in, opt out entirely (ignore me) or say something like "let me call you in two minutes" (which is code for, of course, "let's talk after I go to the bathroom"). This is much, much better than the old world of phone communication, where every call was an interruption.
Feb 7, 2013
What's really bizarre about this phenomenon is that texting is an asynchronous communication protocol, and as such doesn't demand an immediate response. Even if I don't like it, I understand why a sales clerk will interrupt dealing with me to take a phone call from another customer; if he doesn't, the other customer will get angry when there is no response, because he doesn't know that I was there first. Answering a text, on the other hand, doesn't require that same level of immediacy, yet people still do it.

It's almost a Pavlovian reaction; that beep from your pocket creates an insatiable need to see what it is, even though most of the time you could wait until you finish whatever it is you are doing at the time. I don't think that ignoring the here-and-now is a natural tendency; the entire history of pre-electronic communication argues against it. We have to TRAIN ourselves to be rude.

I think Scott is actually on to something when he suggests acting as if the other person was no longer in the room if they start texting. If someone has trained himself to be rude, we can retrain him to not be. Accepting the behavior reinforces it, so don't accept it. Walking away or turning to other activities will signal your dissatisfaction with what they are doing. They may not care, but without the effort, nothing will change.

p.s. To the poster who speculates that the reason we need the Sears tower is that "managers suck" at determining employees' value, and so fall back on physical presence as evidence of work: you're right that most managers suck at determining value, but other than that you are missing the point entirely. When you are dealing with groups of people, virtual communication is orders of magnitude less effective than face-to-face. Just as an example, think about the difference between sitting home alone, watching a comedian's act on TV, versus going to a comedy club and seeing them in person. Same timing, same intonations, same jokes, but the impact is so different that they might as well be speaking different languages. What you might chuckle at on TV, you'll laugh uproariously at in a club. Same goes for meetings.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 7, 2013
If you have a teenage child with a cell phone you know that this prediction has already come true.
Feb 7, 2013
I have a similar feeling when I go to places which look the same as other places - supermarkets with the same layout, or toilets on different floors of the same building. It feels like they are the same place.
Feb 7, 2013
My serious prediction is that our population bubble will go over the population cliff sooner rather than later. Some societal important functions, like creating the next generation, kind of require personal interaction skills that we are all losing.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 7, 2013
Kids today are already texting, watching movies, and playing videogames, all at the same time.
Whats stopping them from adding in-person communication to the mix?

I think their brains will evolve to handle all of it at the same time, but at the cost of their attention span. The only difference between our future brains and the brains of goldfish will be.......
Feb 7, 2013
Scott, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the film Surrogates. The premise is about how face to face communication is now handled by our better looking robot/avatar selfs. As time passes, nobody goes out because we all feel better being plugged in and experiencing the world through the protective eyes of technology. Also, we now smell bad.
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 7, 2013
I read this at the kitchen table, so I asked my kids about it, but they didn't care to respond.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 7, 2013
A hundred years ago (OK 90 years ago), if two people were in the same room and one of them took a phone call, the situation would be the same.

Feel free to treat the person texting in 2013 as you would have treated the person who is ignoring you by talking on the phone. If the person texting is acknowledging you and indicating 'just a minute', you might respond one way. If that person completely ignores you for 15 minutes, anything goes. That person is an idiot.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 7, 2013
You want spatial smearing, come down to this store and jump in line ahead of me. I'll give you some spatial smearing.

Marcel Proust said that every new technology creates a new vice. He was talking about the telephone, which was new at the time, and the way his maid used to listen in on conversations the way some people did when I was a kid and party lines were still pretty common in the country.

What exactly makes people who telephone so special that they get to be served before a customer who has taken the trouble to actually go to the store, find merchandise to buy and then line up to pay for it?

I know they don't like to lose a potential bird in the bush while making the bird in the hand wait, but is this good manners or good business? I suspect that most telephone customers are just comparison shopping and have no commitment to buy.

And maybe they don't know how to use the Internet?

Which you can't blame for people being stupid. This disease goes way back, to the telephone and before.

I am sure that most of these people whose minds are elsewhere are descended from people who would accept an invitation to dinner and then take a "better" invitation without so much as sending a boy around to lie about other engagements. If their dinner or party is so much better than mine, you go to them. You court them assidiously. Because you're not going to be invited again. I give no rain-checks.

Natural selecton should take care of most of these people until cars start driving themselves.
Feb 6, 2013
I'm an old fart by today's standards and I've come to really appreciate texting and tweeting done by today's youth. Since I have little interest in talking to kids or teenagers anyway texting/tweeting pretty much eliminates having to interact with them. I rarely interact with older people that text, and if an adult is texting/tweeting I pretty much write them off as being I'd care to interact with.
Feb 6, 2013
If I pay attention to you while you tell me things, while I think about dinner with my friend (which we have undoubtedly been doing since the stone age), how is it any different if we stick a gadget in my hand?

I think this is a pretty woo-woo concept. Imagine naming different kinds of walking because of what you were secretly thinking about while you did it.

The fact that you see kids texting at the dinner table everywhere you go does not mean their parents allow it, and it doesn't mean it isn't rude, at least to some of us.

When automobiles first came out, you could just buy one and drive it. At some point you had to get a license, and now, there are a ton of rules and general etiquette surrounding what was then a new and incompletely defined technology.

Society will step in and regulate use of this new technology, and those of us who came before it emerged will never fully adjust to the new social structure around it.
Feb 6, 2013

[did you happen to recently read Asimov's "The Naked Dream?"...]

Thats "The Naked Sun"

Feb 6, 2013
I agree that it's rude when someone ignores a live person in favor of a remote one. Drives me nuts when I'm at a checkout an the clerk stops ringing me up to deal with another customer on the phone who just called. And I find it hard to believe that even the fastest typist is more efficient and effective at communicating something via text than in person. Plus, there is more impact when you can hear the tone of the voice and see the body language. MLK's "I have a dream" speach is always going to be more impressive in video than if it came to you as "I hv a dream.." Text and email has it's place, but I hope I don't live to see it replace live conversation.

BTW, did you happen to recently read Asimov's "The Naked Dream?" It combines your blog themes of robot laws with a society where people feel uncomfortable with face-to-face interaction, and prefer using technology. It's a good murder mystery, since a human wouldn't want to get close enough to another human to kill or to be killed, and robots can't murder because of their programming. So how does someone wind up bludgeoned to death?

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