I have said for quite some time that someone somewhere needs to write guidelines for the appropriate use of technology as it directly relates to common courtesy these days.  I continually get miffed and become incredulous at some of the behaviors I see adults displaying regarding the use of technology these days.  That being said, here is my uncensored opinion about how we should and should not use technology in our modern world.  Since it is a new year, why not start off with a better grasp of how we use our technology, as well as how we can improve communication using mixed media?

1.       Do not use your cell phone when you are spending time with another person.  We have all most likely been the victim (and perhaps perpetrator) of a dear family member or friend whom we haven’t seen in ages who schedules some much-appreciated time to see us and then proceeds to answer their cell phone incessantly throughout the entire visit (or is frequently texting).  Nothing irritates me more than this.  Though I often say nothing aloud for the sake of courtesy, I am furious inside.  It’s as if the other person is saying my time and my presence isn’t valued and appreciated to them.  If we can’t even allot uninterrupted time with other people in our lives, then something is seriously amiss in the way we use technology.

2.      Do not hide behind the façade of Facebook, Twitter, email or texting.  It is apparent that many people have used social media to either create a false persona or to avoid confrontation and conflict.  In other words, I have observed people who are otherwise kind, diplomatic and thoughtful in person go on outrageous tangents via email or social media quite impulsively, and I have conversely seen the conflict-avoidant individual ignore a question posed to them in email or easily change the subject so as to divert a potentially difficult topic, which leads me to two subsequent points…

3.      When someone asks you a question via email, social media or text message, ANSWER IT.  I find it excruciatingly rude, irritating and insensitive when I ask a person a question that is simply ignored.  Oftentimes this is done on some sort of technological device for the sake of brevity; however I realize there are times in which a question may require a personal and more careful response, in which case…

4.      If a particularly complex or difficult issue arises via social media, email or text message, politely suggest to discuss it over the phone or in person.  I like to think that basic questions falling into the “who/what/when/where” category can easily be responded to via a virtual device, but more complicated questions, such as “why” or “how” and even more personal issues should honestly be discussed at least over the phone but preferably in person.  I feel very strongly about this, particularly because 85%+ of all human communication is nonverbal.  It is only in our tone, our facial expressions and our body language that we can fully comprehend the entire message that someone is trying to convey.  Otherwise neutral, factual information, such as where to meet someone for dinner or what time to meet seems appropriate to be relayed via technology.  But please remember to respond regardless!  It is simply rude to ignore a question, whether it is asked in person or otherwise.

5.      Remember simple and appropriate salutations and closings for social media and emailing.  It is usually unacceptable to neglect to greet the individual to whom you are referring, nor to disregard closing with “sincerely” or “warm regards” followed by your name.  This is just common sense and courtesy.

6.      Brush up on the soft skills that are powerful and necessary in the working world.  Ben and I are trying to model (and teach) to our older daughter, Felicity, about how to politely address a person and how to begin and conclude a simple conversation with courtesy.  This may seem unnecessary or over-simplified to some, but it is such a rare occasion when I actually witness any sort of manners or courtesy anymore.  So how about greeting a person with, “Hello!  Nice to see you again.  How have you been doing?”  Then ask questions about the other person.  Make eye contact.  Shake hands or give a hug (whichever is more appropriate based upon the relationship).  When the conversation is wrapping up, say, “It was so wonderful to get to catch up with you, and I hope to see you again soon.  I really enjoyed our visit.”  Opening a door, assisting someone with a chair or coat (particularly if the person is elderly or pregnant) are also very charitable (yet seemingly small) acts of courtesy and kindness. 

7.      Let your “yes” mean “yes” and your “no” mean “no.”  We all have made promises we simply could not keep, but the truth is that we need to be more vigilant about what we are committing to doing each day, essentially our time management and priorities.  If we discern these thoughtfully and with careful prayer, we will more confidently be able to know when and how to say “yes” or “no” to various activities, events and commitments and then more likely to follow through.  This is both courteous and Biblical.   

I didn’t intend for this to become a treatise on technology, nor some preachy message, but rather to provoke us to think, and thus to act.  I’m sure there is more that can be said on this topic, but hopefully this is at least some food for thought.  Believe me, I have to remind myself on a regular basis to practice these techniques in my daily life; it’s so easy to become complacent and to neglect very basic personal skills, but I think the value of making eye contact, smiling and really listening to other people goes a long way.

The point is that it is people – not things – that should matter most in our lives, and truthfully, the way in which we use technology, as well as the amount of time we spend using virtual devices, says a lot about where our priorities are.  What are some ways we can exhibit self control with the devices we own and perhaps “unplug” from time to time?  How can we brush up on our social skills and model positive interpersonal behavior to our children and even to others we encounter throughout our days?  These are legitimate questions we need to ask ourselves in order to return to a basic, organic society that values people over objects.