Noise Pollution Etiquette

Waiting for the A train at the 34th Street subway a few months ago in New York City, I was assaulted by the amount of noise on the platform. Chirps, blips, clicks, squawks and music encircled me like ten thousand migrating geese.

I was unintentionally invited into: The very private argument of a young woman and her boyfriend, the squawking swap between two Nextel Direct Connect users, an ear-shattering concert through an iPhone speaker and the assault of a thumping ring tone from a teenager.

The technology landscape has changed the way we communicate with one another but what’s missing is the etiquette manual. With the enthusiastic embracing of new devices, people have lost awareness of the impact that their conversations have on those around them. Physical walls have vanished along with the technological umbilical cords that connected us to the outside world. Welcome to the new world of the personal “mobile home” office, one without boundaries or rules for airing your personal laundry for public consumption.

As a student in The MBA Design Strategy program at the California College of the Arts, my communications course is “Live Exchange (LiveE)”. A focus of this class is cultivating the conversational skill-sets behind Design Strategy. I have come to understand how communication and good manners should be aligned and learning to navigate the difficult waters of complexity is essential for understanding what is really being said. Respecting the opinions of others, listening, and curiosity should be considered when having a conversation. Based on this is my intention here is to help establish a set of etiquette guidelines for technology users when in public.


Etiquette Buster 1 – Cell Phone Usage in Public

Be conscious of your environment. Private conversations should remain private. Discussing intimate details while waiting in line at the grocery store or on an airplane upon arrival or having an all out fight over the phone when traveling on a train cross the boundaries of respectful space. You would not invite the strangers around you into your home, so why is it acceptable to have them participating in your private life?

Strategy: Cell phone users should keep their conversations brief and to the point while in public. Find a quiet place to talk where you can hear and the receiver can clearly hear your voice. Turn off your cell phone and visit your best friend to have a one-on-one conversation. Consider texting your arrival instead of calling to reduce the noise disturbance. Respect others and that respect will be returned.


Etiquette Buster 2 – Establishing Boundaries

When is it appropriate to post personal information on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets for public scrutiny? When is it tolerable to carry on conversations over such outlets? Wi-Fi is becoming the norm on airplanes, allowing you to remain connected to your personal network. Once off limits, you can now have a video conversation at 35,000 feet. But what does the person 4 inches away think of that? Question any new technology and ask if it enriches your life or makes it more complicated. Does it make you a better communicator, or a self-absorbed narcissist? A new device may offer you more bells, whistles and promises but does that mean it will improve your life or the life of others? Think before leaping into the pool of acceptance; you don’t have to do share personal details just because you can.

Strategy: Create personal and public limits for information distribution. Take appropriate steps to protect your confidential information from those who may use it to harm you. Disconnect yourself from the digital devices that distract you while traveling. Define your own space by planting seeds of respect for yourself and for others to adopt.


Etiquette Buster 3 – Keep your Ring Tones to Yourself

The ring tone has invaded our personal space like unwanted cockroaches. Among worst offenders is that specialized ring tone: “Assembly Bugle Call”, “Toilet Flush”, “Crickets”, and “A Long Music Sample”. What some people think of as cute, others find obnoxious. Assess the need to be the center of attention with your therapist, not your neighbor on the bus. Cell phone manufacturers play a role too and should develop products that consciously consider others.

Strategy: Turn your ring tone setting to vibrate. If self-expression is important, opt for a pleasant harmonious tone. Simply turn off, tune out and go outside. Socialize, relax, engage and experience life.


Etiquette Buster 4 – Texting Appropriateness

Is it proper to text people while you are in the bathroom, on a date, in a meeting or operating a vehicle? Texting has developed its own specific language for interaction. Traditional conversations formed with sentences have disappeared in favor of a few characters conveying the gist of the message in sound bites. Dumbing down the quality of our message dumbs down the response, leading to communications devices that help us communicate less, not more.

Strategy: If you text back and forth more then three times, pick up the phone and call. It is more effective. Compose a hand written letter to a loved one instead of sending an email. Learn the language of engagement and respond appropriately, or you may be identified as a novice, unintelligent and passé. Real emotions and insights vanish when communicating poorly.


Etiquette Buster 5 – Multitasking with Technology

Give the person you are speaking to your full attention. Do not try to speak, text, work on the computer and play music all at the same time. If the person on the other line does not warrant your full attention then cut them loose. Respect for the other person in the conversation is important.

Strategy: Allow the appropriate time frame to have the conversation. Do not try to squeeze in a quick phone call to fill time only to cut the conversation short. Be fully present.

High tech devices were intended to be more efficient. Unfortunately, these distraction devices have made our lives more complex. Step back and ask: Do I need to be available every waking moment of the day? Give the process of communication the respect it deserves but more importantly give others the respect they deserve. Buckminster Fuller said, “Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all of the wrong reasons.”

My challenge is for you: Personally evaluate how you use technology in public. Ask yourself if your communication methods are appropriate and effective. Is there an app. for that?

Timothy Morse, California College of the Arts dMBA.



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