Back in 1975, singer-songwriter Paul Simon told us there must be 50 ways to leave your lover. But that was before we all had perpetual connectivity to every person, place and thing we ever knew or imagined through smartphones, tablets and other assorted Internet-connected devices.
Now there are plenty of new ways to leave your lover, as well as your friends, relatives, co-workers, customers and business associates. Just take a phone call in the middle of a meeting, text a friend during an intimate dinner or update your social media profile in the middle of a customer service interaction.
These random Electronic Displays of Insensitivity (EDIs) take a big toll on relationships, said David Maxfield, co-author of new research on Digital Divisiveness. "Maybe it's time to change our behavior," he said.
You Talkin' to Me?
Technology gives us speed, convenience and easier access to information than past generations could have imagined. But is faster and easier always an advantage -- or is it just an excuse to forget social norms?
Maxfield recalled straining to hear what a stranger was saying to him at an airport one day. "Then I realized he wasn't talking to me. He was wearing a headset," he said. "And while that situation was just surprising and weird, other times it can be much worse, from rude to disgusting."
Consider how you'd feel if you were attending a funeral for a friend — only to have a phone go off just as the casket was leaving the service. True story, claims study co-author Joseph Grenny.
"The ring tone was 'Gentlemen, start your engines!'" he said.
Grenny is a co-author of the New York Times bestseller Crucial Conversations, a book designed to help you understand what to say when stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong. He's also a co-founder of VitalSmarts, a Provo, Utah-based corporate training and leadership development company, where Maxfield serves as vice president of research.
So it's not surprising they were intrigued enough by the inescapable phenomenon of texting, talking, tweeting and generalized technology overload to dig deeper.
Technology has its place and an important one at that. But it fails when we use it to feed our fears and anonymity, or focus on its capabilities without regard to its limitations. It fails when we forget that it’s just a means to an end, not an end in itself. And it fails when we make it more important than the people around us.